Often times it is not the biggest game that is the most exciting to watch but the game leading to the big one.
The conference championship games are often times much more competitive than the Super Bowl, and this weekend holds much of that same promise for college football.
What takes place on the field tomorrow just might be far more interesting than 90 percent of what you see during bowl season. With that in mind, the experts at College Sports Matchups have boiled the SEC championship game down to three keys that must be met by a team in order to win the contest. We then provide you odds, as we see it, for achieving each one.
Key One: Alabama must win first and second down on defense
Tim Tebow’s offense is fifth in the nation when it comes to converting third downs. Why? He is a big running back coming straight at you and that has been tough for Bama all year. Bama opponents are only converting 28.92 percent of their third-down attempts.
The odds: 50%
Key Two: Javier Arenas and Leigh Tiffin must have big days
Arenas will need to keep Alabama on a short field so the Tide offense does not have to drive the length of the field to score touchdowns. Florida is not likely to give up many big plays defensively to Alabama and it will be hard to take the ball 60-plus yards against them.
Tiffin will need to come through when field goal opportunities arrive as points might be at a premium in this game with two of the best defenses in the nation squaring off. Tiffin’s 9.75 average points per game could be big.
The odds: Arenas 35%; Tiffin 80%
Key Three: Throw the ball to someone other than Julio Jones
Julio did a great job against Auburn, but to beat Florida it will take Greg McElroy throwing the ball to more than just the dynamic sophomore. Marquis Maze has the big play potential to keep the Gators honest deep. Colin Peek can be the go to target short, creating opportunities to get the ball to Jones in space a little more often. Being focused on just Julio will give Florida’s defense a huge edge in the game. Success will mean 70 percent of Bama’s completions going to someone other than Jones.
The odds: 85%
Key One: Tim Tebow needs to rush for 75 yards in the game
Alabama struggles against a big back, and that is essentially what Tebow becomes when he takes the snap and sprints into the middle of the field with the ball. If he racks up 75 yards or more during the game it means Florida is keeping the football and getting either touchdowns or field goals. Rushing success for Tebow will also allow Florida to stretch the field a little more frequently as Bama commits more people to the run.
The odds: 45%
Key Two: Do not turn the ball over
Florida’s season almost came to a halt against Arkansas when they turned the ball over with four fumbles. These lost scoring opportunities were big down the stretch as the Razorbacks made enough plays passing the ball to stay in the game. For the season Florida has fumbled the ball 17 times, losing 11. The Tide has only lost six fumbles all year.
The Odds: 90%
Key Three: Make Greg McElroy beat you
Mark Ingram’s health is at issue going into this game, but expect to see the stud running back play. If he is not able to go Trent Richardson is a very capable next choice for Alabama. Don’t let the running game get out of the blocks for Nick Saban.
That is what he wants to do. Make his team throw the ball early and get pressure on Alabama’s quarterback. If McElroy is throwing the ball then Florida is in control of the game. Sure, McElroy directed a beautiful drive in the Iron Bowl, but this is not Auburn’s defense he will be facing.
The odds: 50%
How will the game turn out? Who knows? Here is something to think about, though. Auburn gave Florida a blueprint for beating Alabama. Arkansas did the same for Alabama in its game with the Gators.
Alabama cannot replicate what Arkansas did. Florida can match what Auburn set out to do. In our minds, this means Florida has the better chance of winning, but who knows what will really dictate the outcome of what should be a great game?