Faced with one of the toughest schedules in the nation this season, the Florida Gators (2-0, 1-0 SEC) will not be short on obstacles to overcome in 2014.
But before Florida can get to its cross-division rivalry game, annual neutral-site contest with its border rival or season finale against the defending national champions, it has to hit the road and go head-to-head with arguably the best team in college football over the last five seasons, the Alabama Crimson Tide (3-0, 0-0 SEC).
As the home team, the Tide are -14.5 favorites over the Gators as the teams prepare to square off at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. UF, however, does not feel like an underdog entering the contest.
“We’re not really looking at ourselves as underdogs. I mean, we never have,” said sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III this week. “We’re looking at it as Florida against Bama. It’s a big game, we all know it, that’s not a secret. There’s no doubt that those guys are going to play hard and the results will be the results.”
A departure from Urban Meyer’s motivational tactics of emphasizing rivalry games and big-time opponents, head coach Will Muschamp continues to instruct his players to look at each team as a “nameless, faceless” opponent – in order to avoid let downs against teams with less hype or prestige.
Despite UF’s 0-3 record against Georgia and 1-2 record against Florida State under Muschamp, his stance does not seem to have changed even as Florida prepares to go up against his former boss, Nick Saban.
“Nameless, faceless opponent. We’re going to keep the same saying. We’re going to prepare like we do every week, hard and very focused. And we’re not going to take this team lightly,” said sophomore wide receiver Ahmad Fulwood.
Added sophomore defensive back Marcus Maye: “You just know who you’re going up against, but you can’t harp on it too much. You can’t get yourself too psyched about who you’re playing against. We still use [“nameless, faceless”] as our motto, but we’ve got to go out like we do every week and play our game.”
The Gators have expressed renewed confidence in themselves throughout the offseason, and it all appears to stem from how close the players have gotten over the last nine months. For that reason, redshirt senior center Max Garcia explained that Florida is blocking out distractions and maintaining its focus entering the game.
“Like we’ve said from the beginning, ‘We’re all we got and we’re all we need.’ We don’t need anyone else’s opinion or approval. We don’t need anyone else’s confidence in us. We have our confidence in ourselves and this team and this program. That’s just the way it’s going to be. People are writing us off, but that’s just how we want it. We’re going to go in there and compete,” he said.
That does not mean the Gators are not aware of the opportunities they will be presented with on Saturday. Florida has the chance to make a major statement against Alabama, one that could vault them back into the top 25 polls and put the Southeastern Conference on notice.
“Statement game, second SEC game. Our job is to be the No. 1 team in the SEC and win it, so it’s just another ‘W’ we’ve got to get,” said junior defensive end Dante Fowler Jr..
A dominant defensive threat for the Gators through their first two games, Fowler put a perfect bow on Florida’s mindset entering Saturday’s game while (most likely accidentally) paraphrasing 16-time World Heavyweight Champion (and long-time Gators fan), the “Nature Boy” Ric Flair.
“Playing against Alabama, you know, they’re considered one of the best. So in order for you to be the best, you gotta beat the best,” Fowler said.