No. 1 Florida Gators (12-0) vs. No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide (12-0)
What a difference a year makes.
Or does it?
In a repeat of last season’s SEC Championship Game, Florida and Alabama get set to battle once again for the chance to play for a national championship, only this time against probable Big 12 champion Texas.
And like last season, the loser gets relegated to the Sugar Bowl to probably play an undefeated team that was kept out of the BCS title game.
Unlike last year’s game, however, is the style of which both teams arrived in Atlanta. Alabama is still the same workman-like, smash mouth team that many people think are better than the one Florida played last season.
Florida has only looked like defending champions a handful of times this season and until recently, was only a shell of the harbinger of death squad that searched and destroyed everything in its path to close out last season.
Florida wins the game if....
Florida’s defense contains Alabama’s running game.
Any team that can put eight in the box and effectively single-cover Julio Jones can slow down Alabama significantly. Teams have tried this all season long and have been effective in stretches. Florida has the best defensive personnel Alabama will see all season and should prove to be a tough opponent for Alabama’s offense.
Alabama has used their hard-nosed running game to set up their efficient passing game, entrusting quarterback Greg McElroy not to only win games, but not lose them as well.
Florida needs to shut down running back Mark Ingram on early downs, limit him to short gains, and force the Tide to rely on Greg McElroy throwing the ball to beat the Gators.
Ingram has been the most effective this season when he gets 20 or more carries on the ground, going over 140 yards each time this happens. In the seven games when he hasn’t gotten 20 or more carries, he has only topped the century mark twice.
Florida’s big game experience shines through once again.
All season long, I couldn’t help but compare this team to the 2007 National Champion Florida Gators basketball team. Like the basketball team, the Gators have been faced with enormous pressure to repeat as national champions, coasting through the regular season with almost little to no effort living under a cloud of doubt about their true ability until it was time to play with the bright lights on.
Those lights won’t be any brighter than on Saturday when they kickoff in the Georgia Dome. The upperclassmen on this Florida team have been to the mountain top twice. They know what it takes to win a championship. The experience of playing at such a high level more frequently than Alabama will give the Gators the edge they need to step on the throat of Alabama when the time comes.
Florida loses the game if....
Greg McElroy and Julio Jones can exploit Florida’s blitz package.
In the fourth quarter against Auburn, Alabama was consistently able to exploit the Auburn defense and their blitzing schemes by running Julio Jones on shallow crossing routes and picking defenders with either a tight end or another receiver.
Whether its Joe Haden covering when Julio lines up on the short side of the field, or Janoris Jenkins covering when Julio lining up on the wide side, both corners for Florida need to be physical and jam him at the line, disrupting his route timing so the pass rush can get to McElroy.
Also, look for safety help over the top with either Ahmad Black or Major Wright, as Will Hill plays closer to the line of scrimmage to help stack up against the run.
Carlos Dunlap's suspension is a distraction
From a team stand point, nothing could be worse than a major distraction before the biggest game of the season. Losing Carlos Dunlap is huge; period. He was the Gators' best pass rusher, forced more sacks than he has gotten credit for, and was to be a huge part of the game plan for Saturday.
Now, his suspension is going to be a distraction. If there is any silver lining to this, the suspension came early in the week, so both teams can gameplan from today forward with the knowledge that Dunlap won't be there.
His probable replacement, Justin Trattou, is no slouch at defensive end and has seen a lot of action this year, including the season saving interception against South Carolina.
The X-factor will be....
Florida quarterback Tim Tebow
Do you think it would be anyone else?
If you take him out of the game last year, Florida had no chance. The same goes for this year. Sure, they would be competitive with John Brantley and they will be after Tebow leaves, but as long as No. 15 is suiting up for the orange and blue, the Gators have an edge that many people haven't been able to beat.
Florida didn't look right on offense for the first part of this season and most fingers were pointed at the quarterback. Throw in a serious concussion and some lackluster performances in the weeks that followed, and many people began to wonder if "Superman" had finally found his kryptonite.
Now, he gets to come full circle with Alabama. The Crimson Tide recruited him heavily as a high school player and they eventually lost out to Urban Meyer and Florida, drastically altering the direction of both programs. Mike Shula was fired, Nick Saban was hired, and Urban Meyer has won two championships.
Tim Tebow will be the difference that wins the game for Florida.
Game Prediction - Florida 24, Alabama 14
To see what Alabama Crimson Tide superfan Tim Croley has to say, click here.