Paul Finebaum has called the rivalry between Florida and Alabama "college football's most important rivalry." Despite this, Florida has played Alabama fewer times than any other founding member of the SEC except Ole Miss, Tulane and Sewanee. (Sewanee and Tulane left the SEC in 1940 and 1966 respectively.) Mr. Finebaum does have a point, though, as the Gators and Tide have met seven times in the SEC Championship Game, and combined for five national championships since 1992, including three of the SEC's current string of five consecutive championships.
Founded in 1831, the University of Alabama is the flagship university of the University of Alabama System. Originally a "seminary of learning" focusing on a classical education, frequent riots and gunfights led the university's president, Landon Garland, to lobby the legislature to turn Alabama into a military school in 1860, which led to its burning at the hands of Union soldiers in April of 1865. Reopened in 1871, the university grew in size and endowment when the federal government granted the school 40,000 acres and $250,000 in war reparations. Today, the University of Alabama ranks 79th according to U.S. News and World Report, and its 1,000-acre campus centers around the 22 acre original campus known as the Quad. The most recognizable feature of the Tuscaloosa campus is a 115-foot campanile, known as the Denny Chimes, in honor of former university president George H. Denny. Beyond the Quad, academic buildings are arranged in smaller quads.
When it comes to college football in the Southeast, no other program can compare to Alabama's history of success. Playing their home games in Bryant-Denny Stadium (named in honor of the above-mentioned Denny, and legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant), the Crimson Tide claim 13 national championships. While some of those claims are more solid than others, their 802 victories and 26 conference championships (22 SEC Championships) are not in dispute. Alabama holds a winning record against every current and former member of the SEC, and boasts more than 30 ten-win seasons. Originally nicknamed the Crimson White after the university's colors, the Crimson Tide nickname was born in a 1906 newspaper article describing a 6-6 tie against in-state rival Auburn. They derived their elephant mascot from a 1930 newspaper article comparing the size of their varsity players to elephants.
When the Gators square off against the Tide this fall, they will be trying to win at home against Alabama for just the third time ever. Alabama did not lose in Gainesville until 1991 — not that they had many chances, as this will be the only the 10th game in Gainesville in the series. The only other Florida win at home came in 2006. Florida's losses to the Crimson Tide have taken many forms, from blowouts like the 40-0 loss in 1979, to heartbreakers like the 40-39 overtime loss in 1999. The Tide also remain the only team to defeat the Gators in an SEC Championship Game.
Unlike the other rivalries in this series, this would seem to be a one-sided affair in terms of animosity. Alabama has had the better of Florida at home, on the road, and at quasi-neutral sites. Aside from occasional anomalous Florida victories in their sporadic meetings, the Gators provided the Tide with little reason to hate them. That changed in 1990, with a 17-13 Gator victory in Tuscaloosa. The following year in Gainesville, the Gators handed the Tide their only loss of the season, 35-0, en route to the University of Florida's first SEC Championship. That loss would be the Tide's last until December of 1993, when they would fall to (surprise) the Gators in the second SEC Championship Game.
The SEC Championship Game has defined the Florida-Alabama rivalry. The two teams have met more times in the SEC Championship Game than any other school has played in a Championship Game, including four of the first five games. The pinnacle of the rivalry came in the 2008 and 2009 SEC Championship Games, which propelled winners to two more national championships for the SEC.
While Alabama has historically been among the best programs in the nation, in the divisional era of SEC football, no school has been better than Florida, so while the Tide have had the upper hand in the series, Florida's made up considerable ground on Alabama in recent years. Despite relatively few meetings prior to divisional play, and irregular meetings since, the two teams dominance of their respective divisions, the passion of their fan bases, and continued excellence have made this Florida-Alabama rivalry one of the most exciting rivalries in college football today.