GAINESVILLE — Whatever happens tonight between Florida and Alabama, the Gators don't plan to let it define their season. They've been there, done that with the Tide.
Florida coach Will Muschamp is adamant that no game is more important than another. And for now, everything is just fine with the Gators.
"We wanted to be 4-0 at this point, and that's where we are," Muschamp said.
The Gators were where they wanted to be last season when Florida and Alabama met in Tuscaloosa.
Florida and Alabama were in identical positions, undefeated SEC powers meeting in a nationally televised prime-time game. Florida was No. 7, Alabama No. 1.
And much like this season, Florida entered the game with many questions about how effective its offense could be against the better SEC teams. And Alabama was dominating on defense and answering questions about its quarterback and passing game, as it is this year with A.J. McCarron.
Alabama defeated Florida 31-6 last season, but the Gators didn't just lose the game that night: They lost their chemistry, their confidence, their season. And by the end, they had lost their coach, Urban Meyer.
The Alabama loss was the start of a three-game skid, and the Gators lost five of their last nine games.
"It was a big wake-up call," Florida junior safety Josh Evans said. "And it just makes you going into this game get ready and focused on what's going on and not worrying about everything else. … It's about Alabama this week and staying focused on them and nothing else."
Florida quarterback John Brantley remembers the game well. He was 16-of-31 for 202 yards and had two interceptions and no touchdowns. But he insists he hasn't spent much time dwelling on it this week, determined to keep the past behind him. But there are critical lessons to be learned, not only from that game but from the aftermath.
"There's a lot of things (learned)," Brantley said. "But you know, this is a whole new year."
So it should probably come as no surprise that those who endured the turmoil didn't want to relive last year's game this week.
"Basically we're not even really looking at last year," linebacker Jon Bostic said. "It's a whole new year. We really haven't even looked back at that. It's a new year, and everybody is excited about this year, bringing them to our house. We're on our turf now, so basically a lot of the guys are really excited and jacked up."
Though Florida has continued to publicly stick with its mantra of considering opponents nameless and faceless, Alabama's players aren't afraid to say they understand the magnitude of this game and what it means for both teams.
"Oh yeah, this is a very big game," said running back Trent Richardson, a Pensacola native.
And the Alabama players expect the Gators will be out to avenge last season.
"They have homefield advantage this year. They have a new coach and a new drive," receiver Marquis Maze said.
The Gators also have a new offense that will face its stiffest test yet, and a new coaching staff, the majority of it having never experienced this rivalry. The staff welcomes the challenge.
"I think that we have a lot of confidence in our own ability, and we realize that this will be quite the challenge," offensive coordinator Charlie Weis said. "We have a lot of respect for both Alabama's defense and their coaching staff. But we have a lot of confidence in ourselves, too."
Antonya English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her coverage at gators.tampabay.com.