TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) – Ramzee Robinson can be forgiven if he isn’t sure how No. 15 Alabama would react to a really big victory, one that draws the national spotlight and makes people wonder if Bama is really back.

It’s only his fourth year, after all.

“I couldn’t tell you, because I can’t really remember a big, big, big game we’ve won,” the Crimson Tide cornerback said.

It’s been awhile. Alabama (4-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) is trying to snap that drought Saturday when No. 5 Florida visits with an identical record and considerably more credibility nationally.

The last time Alabama beat a Top 10 team was 1999, when the seventh-ranked Tide hammered the No. 5 Gators 34-7 in the SEC championship game.

Sure, there was a win at No. 11 LSU in 2002, but the Tide was a spoiler, not a contender since the team was ineligible for a league title because of NCAA sanctions.

Since then, Alabama’s only victory over a Top 25 team in eight tries was last season’s win over a Southern Miss team ranked 24th.

No wonder linebacker DeMeco Ryans thinks Alabama would have so much to gain from a midseason victory over a team from a different SEC division.

“We’re going out to win, just to put Alabama back on top,” Ryans said. “To get our respect back at the University of Alabama. I think a lot of people have forgotten about Alabama football and the winning tradition we have here. A win would just put us back on top.”

If not on top, it would certainly put the Tide in the driver’s seat for the SEC West, especially with LSU’s overtime loss to Tennessee on Monday night. But a must-win? In October? Charlie Peprah thinks so.

“It’s been a long time since we won a big game around here,” the Tide safety said. “It’s another step in the ladder that we’re trying to climb.

“We’ve just got to win this game, that’s all there is to it.”

The Tide could cite plenty of factors for not being able to win the big games despite a number of close calls, from coaching changes to depth disadvantages caused by the sanctions.

There have been plenty of close calls: losses to Oklahoma by a combined 17 points in 2002 and 2003, a 27-25 defeat against No. 7 Georgia three years ago.

Not to mention an exasperating five-overtime loss to No. 22 Tennessee in 2003.

Peprah doesn’t think the Tide ever lacked confidence heading into those games. Depth, maybe. Talent, possibly. Now, he thinks there’s a difference in this team after a road win at South Carolina and strong finishes in wins over Southern Miss and Arkansas.

“This year we’ve got a brand-new confidence that no matter what the situation, we think we can pull it out,” Peprah said.

For once, though, history is against Alabama. For all its national and league titles, the Tide is 0-5 against Top 5 teams at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Quarterback Brodie Croyle didn’t even know that until a fan approached him at lunch Tuesday.

“We were all kind of shocked, with the tradition that we have and all the big games that we’ve won,” Croyle said. “That kind of gave us an extra little bit of motivation, if we needed any at all, to be the group that did that first.”

After about two years out of the rankings and a 10-15 mark in coach Mike Shula’s first two seasons, the Tide is off to its first 4-0 start since 1996.

Now comes the biggest opportunity of Shula’s brief tenure with his team finally looking like a potential contender. Some regarded him as on the hot seat entering the season, needing a big season – and a big win or two – to keep his job status secure.

The low-key Shula isn’t approaching it any different and wants his players to follow suit.

“Our preparation’s got to be the same,” Shula said. “We’ve got to be focused in. We have to not let any outside thing influence the way we prepare. Each week as you play in the SEC and as you win, each game gets bigger.

“We want guys here – we’ve got guys here – that enjoy that, who want to have people looking at them, people looking at our football team and wondering what the team’s about.”

And finally talking about Alabama in terms of current events instead of tradition.

“We embrace that tradition here,” Shula said. “It’s exciting. But the other thing about this place to me is people in my opinion, they don’t want to live in the past.”

AP-ES-09-27-05 1724EDT

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