Friday, December 5, 2008

Saturday Showdown - Gators Battle Tide for the SEC Championship

By JC De La Torre

The #1 team in the nation faces the hottest team in the nation as the first two teams to ever play in the SEC Championship game return to face off in a contest that should decide one of the participants the BCS Title Game. The undefeated Alabama Crimson Tide will meet the #4 ranked Florida Gators (11-2) in Atlanta to settle who is tops in the Southeastern Conference.

Let's take a look at the matchups for this titanic matchup.

The Series
Alabama leads the All-time series 21-13, while Florida won the last meeting in 2006. Florida and Alabama have met five times in the SEC Championship game, with the Gators leading 3-2. Alabama won their last meeting in the SEC Championship game in 1999, 34-7. Alabama has advanced to the SEC Championship five times, meeting Florida each time. Florida has been to the SEC Championship game eight times, and hold a 6-2 record (with their only losses to Alabama).

Florida’s Offense vs. Alabama’s defense

The Gators offense is without question, one of the most feared in the country. Florida comes in boasting the 3rd highest scoring offense in the nation. Florida's 17th in total offense, 10th rushing, 61st in passing offense. The Gators boast a galaxy of offensive stars - Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Tim Tebow, running backs Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, wide receivers Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy, while they have one of the toughest offensive lines in the nation. Since being upset by the Ole Miss Rebels on September 27th, the Gators have outscored their opponents 414-97 in eight victories (including 4 against ranked teams). Florida has dismanted top ranked defenses in LSU, South Carolina, Florida State, and Kentucky, each came in with defenses ranked in the top ten of the nation and left with large, ugly defeats. This is the challenge that faces the 3rd ranked defense of the Alabama Crimson Tide. Alabama has been fantastic against both the run and pass, ranked 3rd in the nation in both. The Tide are led by sensational linebackers Rolando McClain, Brandon Fanny and Dont'a Hightower. They are anchored on the defensive line by senior Bobby Greenwood and in the secondary by Rashad Johnson.

Alabama’s Offense vs. Florida’s Defense

Overlooked in the Main Event matchup of Florida's offense against Bama's defense is the flip side. Alabama offense comes in 28th in scoring, 22nd in rushing, 97th passing, and 53rd in total offense. The Alabama rushing attack is led by sterling junior Glenn Coffee who has rushed for 1,235 yds and 9 touchdowns. Freshman Mark Ingram has shown to be a force, finding the endzone 11 times himself. Another fabulous freshman, Julio Jones, is really Alabama's only receiving threat. Quarterback John Parker Wilson doesn't light up the scoreboard but has shown to be an effective game manager who commits few mistakes. Playing in the shadow of their offense, the Gators quietly have fielded one of the best defenses in the nation. The Gators are ranked right behind the vaunted Alabama defense in scoring, 4th overall in the nation. They're 7th in total defense, 12th in rushing defense, and 17th against the pass. Florida ranks second in the nation in interceptions with 23 and Florida is #1 in the nation in turnover margin (+21). The Gators are led on defense by junior linebacker Brandon Spikes. The strenght of the defense is their secondary, led by Major Wright and Ahmad Black, as well as fab freshmen Janoris Jenkins and Will Hill. Sophmore Carlos Dunlap lead the Gators with 9 sacks.
Florida’s Special Teams vs. Alabama’s Special Teams

Florida is 7th in the nation in punt returns, 59th in kickoff returns, 4th in punt coverage but 89th in kickoff coverage. Florida's Brandon James is a whizz in the return game, as he has returned two punts for touchdowns this season. Florida's Jonathan Phillips has not missed a field goal this season, however his missed extra point against Ole Miss was the difference in the ballgame. Punter Chas Henry is rarely called upon but he is averaging 42.3 yds a punt. Alabama is ranked 107th in kickoff return average, 13th in punt returns, their 73rd in kickoff coverage and 74th in punt coverage. Javier Arenas does the return job for Alabama, he too has returned 2 punts for touchdowns. Junior Placekicker Leigh Tiffin has struggled a bit, only making 71% of his kicks and missing an extra point. PJ Fitzgerald handles the punting for the Tide, averaging 41.1 yards a kick.


Florida's Urban Meyer is 40-9 at Florida and has the Gators in position for the 2nd SEC and National Championships of the Meyer era. Nick Saban is in his second season with the Crimson Tide. After a 7-6 first season, Saban has returned the Tide to national prominence with a stunning 12-0 record and a return to the SEC Championship game for the first time since 1999.

The Spread

We always mention the spread because Urban Meyer has always been well aware of the betting line due to many boosters that partake in the short term investment market. Florida is favored by 10 by most oddsmakers.

Final Score Prediction

Without question, Florida is the best team Alabama has faced this season. While the Gators have won roughshod over the SEC East, Alabama has won ugly most of the way to the #1 ranking. Good defense and a strong running game has been their hallmark all season. Florida comes in with speed and speed typically trumps strength, as has been the case in the last few BCS Championship games. Simply put, Alabama is overmatched in two of the three phases (on offense and special teams) and Florida has an argument on defense because of how opportunistic they are. The Tide simply do not have the horses to hang with Florida. If the Gators avoid beating themselves with costly turnovers, Florida should pull away from the Tide and win this one comfortably.

My Pick: Florida 30, Alabama 13

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