Three years.

Three years have passed since the last time the Gators and Crimson Tide have met on the football field. The environment surrounding that matchup was slightly different than it is in present day. Florida head coach Will Muschamp was entering his fifth game with Florida, coaching a team to a 4-0 record, one year following a disappointing 2010 season under Urban Meyer.

On the other sideline, Nick Saban and Alabama were in the midst of their 2011 championship run after a 10-win season in 2010.

Back then, that Oct. 1 matchup was seen as a measuring stick for Muschamp and the No. 12 ranked Gators. And what did everyone find out?

The Gators were a fraud – a .500 team hidden by the shiny exterior of a 4-0 record directly correlated with a laughable opening schedule.

Those 12th ranked Gators were blownout on their homefield 38-10 by the eventual SEC and BCS champions. Florida went on to finish that season just one game over .500, thanks to a Gator Bowl win over Ohio State.

So what’s changed now, four years later as these two teams square off again? Not much.

Despite a BCS bowl appearance in 2012, the Gators regressed down to a new low a year later, finishing at 4-8, the program’s worst record since 1979. Now, Muschamp is literally fighting for his job and has hired his third offensive coordinator in four years to help right the ship.

Saban and his team? They’re rolling along as good as ever, accumulating 27 wins from 2012 to present day. So for the Gators, Alabama once again presents itself as a true indicator of just how much progress the Gators have made under Muschamp’s direction.

“I would say so, given the bunch Alabama has,” Gators offensive lineman Chaz Green said. “I think it’ll be a good measuring stick [for us].”

Alabama remains one of the SEC’s best, a label that was associated with the Orange and Blue not too long ago. But the Gators have fallen on hard and inconsistent times. Even with the hiring of Kurt Roper in the offseason and the return of several key starters who were injured last season, this is still a team laden with question marks.

Reports out of camp during the offseason suggested Jeff Driskel was finally in an offense suited for his skillset. Everything was there for him to make a huge leap in progress. But what did everyone see from him against his first real competition against Kentucky last weekend? Much of the same. He looked flustered, didn’t make good reads of the defense and made some atrocious throws.

How about discipline? The Gators committed another eight penalties for 78 yards against the Wildcats, continuing one of the biggest issues throughout the Muschamp era. Florida has finished either last or second-to-last in the SEC in penalties committed since he arrived in 2011.

The defense – something that’s never supposed to be a concern as long as Muschamp is there – showed some chinks in the armor last Saturday. Thanks to several communication issues, the secondary showed vulnerability to the deep ball, giving up seven passing plays of 20 yards or more.

These issues have only shown up in one game for the Gators this season, so there’s really no way of knowing just what kind of team will show up to play Alabama on Saturday. That’s why this upcoming game is so important for the Gators. It’s a chance for them to show everyone who they are, a chance to claim back their identity as a real contender in the SEC.

It wouldn’t even take a win for that message to be conveyed to the rest of the conference. A close, hard-fought loss would certainly still catch the attention of the Gators’ divisional rivals, especially in a wide-open SEC East race. This is just the kind of game the Gators need right now –  a measuring stick to see whether we’ve seen the real Gators team yet or just another mirage of what the fans hoped they would see.