Gators get a taste of the underdog role

The last time Florida went into a football game and wasn’t favored to win, the legend of Tim Tebow was just being born.

In other words, it’s been a while since the Gators weren’t favored in a football game.

According to Mike Seba of Las Vegas Sports Consulting, the last time was Oct. 6, 2007 against an LSU football team that would go on to win the national championship.

So, if you’re counting, that’s 39 straight games that Florida has played a game as the favorite. On Saturday, the No. 7-ranked Gators will play a game as the underdog, as much as a nine-point underdog in some quarters.

And how’s this for a fact?

They’ll do so against No. 1-ranked Alabama with junior quarterback John Brantley making his second career start on the road.

That game in 2007 was against an LSU team that was also ranked No. 1 at the time. The Gators were ranked No. 9, and their quarterback -- a guy named Tebow -- was making his second career start on the road.

Florida battled tooth and nail, but fell 28-24 in one of the hardest-hitting games this league has produced in recent years.

This game Saturday has that same potential to be a physical bloodbath.

It’s the way Alabama loves to play. It’s the way Florida will have to play if the Gators are going to do something that hasn’t been done since the end of the 2007 season -- and that’s beat Alabama in an SEC regular-season game.

It’s worth noting that Florida is the last SEC team to beat Alabama. The Gators won the 2008 SEC championship game 31-20 by owning the fourth quarter.

Since that loss, Alabama has outscored opponents 152-38 in the fourth quarter, over the course of 19 games.

This season, the Crimson Tide have outscored opponents 31-3 in the fourth quarter and 58-6 in the second half.

They’ve still yet to give up a touchdown after halftime and scored 17 unanswered points to beat Arkansas 24-20 last week in Fayetteville.

The Gators haven’t exactly been slouches in the fourth quarter under Urban Meyer.

Going back to the start of the 2008 season, they’ve outscored opponents 272-116 in the fourth quarter. That’s a total of 32 games, and they’ve shut out opponents in the fourth quarter in 14 of those games.

This season, they’ve outscored opponents 44-10 in the fourth quarter, giving up only one touchdown.

The last time Florida beat Alabama, the Gators played what Meyer said this week was probably the best fourth quarter he’s ever seen.

Not that the Gators will necessarily need to duplicate those 15 minutes to win, but they will need to play their best game of the season.

And they’ll need to do so in an environment that very few people -- outside of Gainesville -- expect them to succeed in, especially when you consider how good Alabama has been in the second half.

“If we get a little better this week (in practice), we’ll have a shot,” said Meyer, who felt like his Gators took a big step last week against Kentucky.

Whatever happens, don’t be surprised if it comes down to the fourth quarter -- again.