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Alabama-Florida needs to be special again

9/26/2011
Nick Saban, left, and Will Muschamp will square off Saturday in Gainesville. Getty Images

Two years ago, the momentum started churning.

Last October, it mimicked a runaway train with the excitement surrounding it.

Dubbed by some as the next great rivalry in all of sports, the Alabama-Florida game became the premier matchup for two straight years.

It started with a bone-crushing, all-out brawl inside the Georgia Dome in 2008 -- one Florida escaped thanks to quarterback Tim Tebow dragging his team through Hell and back. Florida was propelled into the national championship game, which it won, and sent No. 1 Alabama slinking home.

Almost a year later to the day, Alabama exacted revenge in a game hyped beyond the title game for essentially being another semifinal for the national championship.

Both teams were undefeated, with top-ranked Florida looking for repeat appearances in the national championship, but Alabama played vengeful spoiler by completely blindsiding Florida, throttling the Gators 32-13. Alabama was national championship bound and Florida was left with a tarnished ego and the lasting image of Tebow crying on the stadium scoreboards as Bama fans roared with cheers.

Last year, these teams met in the regular season in a game generating the same sort of buzz as the last two. It got prime-time billing as a herd of national media descended on Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Alabama creamed Florida 31-6 and the rivalry lost some glitz, as both teams went their separate ways.

Saturday, these will meet in Gainesville, Fla., on prime-time TV. Everyone who is anyone should be watching. This is a chance for us to get back our Ali-Frazier. Our Godzilla-Mechagodzilla. Our Michael Scarn-Goldenface!

When these two played, the ground shook because it was for something -- twice for the national championship.

Urban Meyer is gone, but in his place might be a more prominent figure for such rivalry revival.

For two years, this was one of the biggest, most popular college football matchups in all the land, and new Florida coach Will Muschamp has a chance to bring some luster back to this rivalry.

He’s Nick Saban lite; he coached under Saban at LSU and with the Miami Dolphins. He has the stare, and more importantly, he has the Gators back in the national spotlight, as Florida gets ready for a knockout, drag-out bar fight with the No. 3 team in the country.

Both teams enter with smothering defenses -- both with eerily similar tactics and strategies. Alabama and Florida are currently ranked in the top five nationally in most defensive categories and are first and second in the SEC in scoring defense, total offense, total defense and rushing offense.

We need for this rivalry to return, and that means Florida has to win, or keep it close until the end. An Alabama blowout will do nothing but remind us how good the Tide are and how far Florida still has to go. Saban’s apprentices rarely get the best of him, but Muschamp has the demeanor and the talent around him to have a shot.

Muschamp isn’t much for worrying about what could be. He’s concerned about his team and trying to game plan against a team that left Arkansas broken and beaten over the weekend.

“We just worry about Florida,” Muschamp told reporters after Saturday’s 48-10 win over Kentucky. “I mean, really, at the end of the day, we’re going to take care of the University of Florida. We’re going to be fine versus everybody we play, starting with Alabama.”

He didn’t come close to taking a shot at Alabama, but you have to love the confidence.

We’ve seen the Saban-like approach in preparation and style in Muschamp. Florida isn’t Alabama, but it mimics Saban’s squad in certain areas and Florida isn’t backing down from the tenacious Tide.

As for Alabama, the Tide know what to expect from a hostile crowd at night in Gainesville. This Florida team was embarrassed by the Tide last year and it’s out for some revenge of its own.

"I don't know if you can be prepared to go down and play in Gainesville," Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower said. "It's one of the places a lot of people don't want to play in -- in my opinion, next to LSU, the No. 1 or No. 2 worst places to play in because of the crowd. It's going to be real intense. The Alabama-Florida game has always been really good, so we're looking forward to it."

We’re all looking forward to it because this game meant something. In order for this rivalry to generate previous excitement is if Florida pulls the upset, or dies trying.

Can this rivalry replace the likes of Alabama-Auburn or Florida-Tennessee in the hearts of fans? Absolutely not, but both are nationally recognized programs and if they renew this thing the right way, college football will get back a special rivalry born on the Georgia Dome FieldTurf.