There's No Time Like the Present, At Least for the Gators -- Florida 31, Alabama 20

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Close, but not close enough.

For weeks, we had wondered what would happen to Florida if the Gators faced a team that didn't give Florida an even more decided advantage by helpfully imploding -- if Georgia didn't attempt a second-quarter onsides kick, if South Carolina didn't try a lateral on a kickoff return in the first quarter, etc. On Saturday, we found out.

The 31-20 score actually looks a little more dominating than the box score. Florida outgained Alabama by just 35 yards, 358-323, and gained only one more first down than the Tide, 19-18. And there is is no reason for Alabama to apologize at all for the margin; the Tide became only the second team this season to come within 23 points of the Gators.

By all accounts, Nick Saban was ahead of schedule even getting the Crimson Tide to the SEC Championship Game in 2008. If he can avoid his tendency to wander -- and one would hope his experience with the Dolphins has taught him the pitfalls of that -- this season could be the beginning of the long-awaited "return to glory" sought by Alabama fans. (That said, it's probably not a good idea to give Saban a 10-year extension just yet.) A ruthless defense and efficient offense rarely wax and wane with particular recruits, though Saban has certainly shown himself capable of keeping a team well-stocked.

It seems that Urban Meyer has been ahead of schedule almost since he arrived at Florida. An SEC title and national championship in his second season, and now a chance to do what Steve Spurrier never could -- win a second national title. But Meyer's future is perhaps more clouded by personnel issues. Or, more accurately, one personnel issue: A decision by Tim Tebow to bolt for the NFL could be devastating unless John Brantley (or, exceedingly unlikely, Cam Newton) is ready to step in for Tebow.

That concern, though, is for the offseason. As bright as Alabama's future is and as uncertain as Florida's is, the Gators showed Saturday why they are the team with the brighter present.

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