We finally made it. The improbable rematch to the best game from last year is here. Both teams are missing key pieces from last year. However, neither slipped up, and for the first time ever we have a battle of undefeateds in the SEC championship.
To put it bluntly, this game will rock.
Not convinced? I've got 15 pieces of evidence backing me up.
15. No. 15
I don't mean number 15, as in the 15th most important reason to watch this game. I mean jersey No. 15 for the Florida Gators, Tim Tebow. The Heisman winner—and probably two-time Heisman winner—shows up in big games. And this is one of the biggest.
Take a look at his career stats in what I consider the big games (LSU, the traditional rivals, bowls, and championships):
212/333, 2872 yds, 34 TDs, 5 INTs, 166.8 Pass Eff.
285 rush, 1,068 yds, 19 TDs
To give you an idea of how good he's been, the career mark for pass efficiency is 168.9, set by a WAC quarterback. Tebow's been doing nearly that against his toughest competition.
Don't expect anything less than a huge game by No. 15 with a title and an outside shot at the Heisman on the line.
14. The Coaches
Say what you want about the SEC, but the league is the fun. In fact, it's the most fun, most successful league, thanks to the guys calling the plays.
My theory on it? The SEC's model for success is professional wrestling. We've got heels (Kiffin, Meyer, Saban, Spurrier), Wildcards (Miles, Nutt and his wacky daughter), Good guys (Johnson, Richt), inept refs who "never see nothin'," even when somebody smacks a guy with a chair, and a jackass commish who plays favorites.
The championship gives us two of the heels, an all–star cast of crappy refs, and Vince McSlive in attendance. How could you not watch that?
13. Defense, Defense, Defense!
The Gators rank first in total defense, second in passing defense, first in scoring defense, and eighth in rush defense. They are also top 20 in sacks.
Alabama ranks third in total defense, first in pass defense, second in scoring defense, and second in rush defense. They are 25th in sacks.
Neither team gives up more than two scores a game—Florida at 9.8 points per game, and Alabama at 10.8.
For those of you a little skeptical of how two dominant defenses can make for an exciting game, look back at last year's 31–20 SEC championship. Both teams were top 20 in all of the above categories. The two unstoppable forces were able to put up a combined 51 points on the immovable objects. This year they just went and turned it up to All–Madden.
12. Mark Ingram
The other Heisman candidate took a big hit in both his candidacy and on the field. Right now he's not practicing. But he says he's playing, and I believe him.
Ingram's second effort has killed teams this year, and it will be the ultimate test for the Gators' stout defense.
At nearly 300 yards and 11 TDs behind Gerhart, Ingram has some work to get back into the Heisman race. A big game on the biggest stage will do just that.
11. NFL Pre-draft Workout
This game should be the first choice for every NFL scout in the nation. The Gators have Tebow, Spikes, Haden, Dunlap, Hernandez, James, Cunningham, and the Pounceys to show off.
Alabama's bringing Cody, Daederick, McClain, Arenas, and Woodall.
McClain and Spikes are the defensive leaders, likely the first and second best players at the inside linebacker position, respectively. Haden and Cody are possibly the best players on each team.
Short of bringing the 2001 Miami squad back, you're not going to get more talent in a college football game.
10. Spread Versus Stuff
Last year, Urban's offense got the best of Saban's defense, but it wasn't easy. Florida averaged just 3.4 yards per rush, never gaining more than 14 yards on a single rushing play.
Every hard yard was worth it in the end though. Every time Demps failed to get outside, every time Tebow got stuffed up the middle, every seemingly ineffective play increased the tension until finally, one got free for a 10 yard gain. It felt like an NFL playoff game.
9. Brandon James
I don't know what happened during the beginning of the season, but James forgot how to run. Well, Florida's return man has come on a bit in the last few weeks, gaining 182 punt return yards over the past five games.
Last year he averaged 24.2 yards per kickoff return and 8.3 yards per punt return. I doubt Urban will let him regress to his early 2009 form, so I'd expect similar numbers this year.
8. Javier Arenas
This year, the better return man clearly plays for the Tide. Last year, it was a wash—both were extremely explosive on every play. However, James has fallen far from his 2008 form, and Arenas remains the same.
Something should be said about his confidence not leading to mouthiness, too. Greg Reid said he'd break one. Florida didn't give him a chance, only punting once. Arenas has wisely stayed silent, allowing his impressive résumé to speak for itself. I doubt Henry will only be punting once, and Arenas will get his chance.
7. Power Run Versus 3–3–5 Mega-blitz
Florida has the deepest, most talented secondary in the nation. Charlie Strong realized this last year and put in the 3–3–5 package. It worked, so it became the base set.
This year, he's taken blitzing from the nickel and turned it up to 11. This, coupled with the Gators' all-around athleticism, has led to a high-reward defense that managed to keep risk low.
Most of the risk management falls on No. 5. Haden can tackle anyone in the open field. He leads the team with 61 solo tackles, and is often left by himself while Florida sends the house. Strong trusts him to save the TD, and so far he has.
Enter the Alabama rushing attack and Mark Ingram.
Ingram leads the lead in "holy s*** he just rolled that guy!" (HSHJRTGs). He sheds defenders that hit him low or high, and if Haden doesn't make him fall on one of his frequent left-on-the-island-alone plays, Ingram will be in the end zone before someone else catches him.
Revenge for what, for losing one game? Nope. Revenge for a missed BCS title.
Dumb people will say, "Alabama lost to Utah. There's no way they would have won the title last year." I disagree with those dummies. Alabama's hearts were broken in Atlanta. One month later, they had lost their edge and barely showed up against a hungry Utah team that felt like they deserved to be in Miami.
The result was an unexpected beat-down where Alabama never really got into the game. If the roles were reversed, the results might have remained the same. A defeated Florida squad could have done the same thing against Utah, and a perfect Alabama team might have stalled the mighty Sooners offense, outlasting them and hoisting a trophy in South Florida.
There's no real way to know, but you should know this. Alabama believes that to be true. That's all they need for this year.
These are the two most athletic defenses in the nation. If a quarterback sails a pass, the safeties will punish the receiver. If a running back or running quarterback goes for the extra yard, he's getting his helmet knocked off.
Even if the score is 3–3 after four overtimes, the game will be exciting because of all of the highlight-reel hits.
4. Julio Jones
Even though he was more exciting last year, before teams knew that they could shut him down, he's still a game–changer. Part of Bama's game plan will be getting Jones involved more as a receiver than a decoy because he's the only Tide WR who can make big plays on the Gators' stingy defense.
3. Porous Pass Protection
This one's for all of the Tebow haters. He might get rocked on Saturday. His line has allowed 28 sacks (81st in the nation). While the Gators have cleaned up a little bit since Xavier Nixon began starting at tackle, they haven't faced a defense like Alabama.
Tebow's going to get hit, and he might get hit hard. Those of you who like that stuff should probably hang around.
2. Alabama's Redemption
One game is one game. Two games is a series. If the Tide lose the big game twice to the Gators then it clears up two things. First, Urban is the better coach. There's no other way to slice it. He's the better big game coach, he's better head to head, he's just better. Sorry, Bama.
Second, it clears up how far my road trip will be in January. It's either a 2500 mile drive or a 700 mile drive. As soon as I know, I'll be able to plan accordingly.
1. It's 12–0 No. 1 vs. 12–0 No. 2
This is a BCS championship in early December. Need I say more?
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