Tide, Gators still big 2

The SEC's dominant teams of the past two years are favored to meet for the league title again.

More than four months remain until the start of the 2010 Southeastern Conference football season, which gives most league teams ample time to relish being undefeated against Alabama and Florida.

The Crimson Tide and Gators have dominated the conference the past two autumns, combining for a 31-1 record in league games and a 47-1 record in regular-season games. Each has claimed a national title the past two years, and the pair will be heavily favored to meet in a third consecutive SEC championship game.

"All of us are trying to get up to that level, but every year is a new year," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said in a league teleconference Thursday. "Alabama, I think, lost a bunch of players defensively and maybe some kickers and punters and things like that, but they're loaded. They've recruited extremely well, and so has Florida.

"What you hope is that you can find 35 or 45 players to maybe match their 85. They're going to have more than us, but you can only put 11 at a time out there. I'm hoping the 11 we put out there can really play well that day."

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley is new to this scenario, taking over a program that has lost three times in a row to Alabama and five straight to Florida.

"Until those two teams get dethroned, they're sort of what everybody is chasing," Dooley said. "I have a lot of respect for what both of those programs have done. Tennessee has been there before, so hopefully we can get our program back quickly to where we're competitive at that level."

Alabama has posted consecutive 12-0 regular seasons under coach Nick Saban for the first time in its storied history. The Tide won the West Division last year by three games, which was close compared to the four-game bulge Urban Meyer's Gators enjoyed in the East.

The best news the league has concerning its towering twosome is that Alabama and Florida play Oct. 2 at Bryant-Denny Stadium, so somebody has to lose.

"I don't really worry so much about them," LSU coach Les Miles said. "I like our opportunities and the advantages that our team brings, so we look forward to competing against those teams. They're on our schedule every year."

Until Alabama's surge, it was Florida and LSU holding the upper hand on their respective sides. Each of those programs has won two national titles since 2003, but the Tigers have slipped since winning the '07 crown, going 8-8 in league games the past two seasons.

Alabama's biggest West threat this year could be Arkansas, which returns quarterback Ryan Mallett and a slew of talented receivers who could pose problems for the Tide's youthful defense Sept. 25 in Fayetteville.

"It's everybody's challenge to get there, and we feel like we have a shot at it," Razorbacks coach Bobby Petrino said. "I'm sure there are a lot of other teams in the SEC that feel like they have a shot at it. It's always great competition. There are no times when you step out on the field and feel like you have better players than the teams you are going up against."

Petrino said Alabama and Florida have been elite in all three phases of the game. The Crimson Tide and Gators may provide foes a slight opening from a return-game standpoint this season, as Javier Arenas and Brandon James were among the best in league history.

Ole Miss is the only team to break through the past two seasons, shocking Florida 31-30 at the Swamp in 2008. So what does it take to defeat the Tide or Gators?

"If you play exactly right and take care of the ball and have the fewest penalties and the fewest mistakes, you've got a chance," Rebels coach Houston Nutt said.

How comforting.