Your biggest rival is often your nearest opposite; Florida-Florida State, Alabama-Auburn, Red Sox-Yankees, Bears-Packers. Occasionally, a rivalry is created because of circumstances; Raiders-Steelers in the 1970s, 49ers-Cowboys in the 80s and 90s. Avalanche-Red Wings in the 1990s, Pirates-Reds in the 1970s.
Alabama-Florida is one of those rivalries of circumstance. It is not the most important rivalry in college football. Alabama is not Florida's biggest rival, either. But in the modern, 12-team SEC, Alabama-Florida has defined the early history and recent history of the conference. They matched up in four of the first five SEC title games, when a conference championship game was a novelty. In the last two seasons, as the public begged for a playoff system, their matchups have been a National Semifinal game.
Maybe it is the baseball fan in me, but I look at Saturday's game as part of a larger series that began in 2005. That was the game that introduced Urban Meyer to SEC football, as Florida lost 31-3 at Tuscaloosa. In 2006, Bama coach Mike Shula was on his way out when UF won 28-13 on the day UF celebrated their 100th season of football. With the 2008 and 2009 games, the series is now tied 2-2.
As fans, we now include this in our Championship Mode collection of rivals; Tennessee, LSU, Georgia, Florida State and occasionally Miami. It is fun for us to have another team to hate. It is more fun when that team is standing between you and a conference or national championship. In 2010, Alabama, LSU and FSU are the only teams that should challenge Florida. But LSU has no quarterbacks and FSU is still hungover from Bobby Bowden's tenure.
I am glad the players take this seriously, as the Alabama game will define the Gators in 2010. There is one major difference though between Alabama and the other rivals; losing to the Tide will not end the season. If Florida had lost to Tennessee, or loses to Georgia or FSU, it would feel like getting kicked in the nuts. If the Gators do lose, they cannot let Bama beat them twice in that it impacts how they handle LSU. Dropping the LSU game will make winning the East an uphill climb. If the Gators keep it close, they can use that knowledge to rally and eventually face Bama again in Atlanta. Even with a loss, this game will be a key to the rest of the season.
As for the Gators winning, I am far too superstitious to even think of that. I'm not only insane enough to think that a lucky outfit will help the Gators win. I'm insane enough to think that positive thoughts will jinx the Gators.
As this is a Championship Mode, be sure to have your lucky outfit ready for Saturday and plenty of your lucky beverage of choice. Just remember that this is only Game 5 of the series. We should have a Game 6 in December.