Following an exhilarating overtime thriller in Death Valley and a woodshed romp in the Music City, Alabama and Florida have booked their tickets to what is sure to be a monumental SEC Championship game. To the victor will likely go the spoils: a ticket to Miami and the chance to win a national title.
The pundits have penciled in the Gators for Miami. Here’s why they might be wrong.
1. Florida’s big wins against teams that Alabama could only sneak by don’t matter as much as they seem to.
Sure, Florida has routed at least two teams that Alabama squeaked by. ‘Bama took its sweet time in putting away Kentucky, winning by a single score, while the Gators beat the Wildcats by more than eight touchdowns. Florida also beat LSU by 30 points, while the Tigers took the Tide to overtime.
However, those games may not be as meaningful as they seem on paper. ‘Bama’s matchup against Kentucky was mostly a letdown following their huge win at Georgia, and the LSU thriller was at Death Valley in the middle of a media maelstrom concerning Coach Nick Saban’s return to Baton Rogue.
The other head-to-head matchups look better for the Tide.
2. Outside the flukes, ‘Bama matches up well with the Gators against common opponents.
Alabama beat Tennessee 29-9, a 20-point spread. Florida beat the Vols 30-6, a 24-point spread, giving the Gators only a four-point advantage. The Tide makes up this advantage when one looks at the two teams’ Arkansas matchups.
‘Bama beat Arkansas 49-14, a 35-point spread. Florida, on the other hand, beat the Razorbacks 38-7, only a 31-point spread. This is despite the fact that the Gators went to Fayetteville looking for revenge in the wake of their humiliating loss to Ole Miss.
Speaking of Ole Miss, the Rebels beat the Gators 31-30. The Tide beat Ole Miss 24-20.
The only other common opponent is Georgia. Sure, Florida looked good beating the Bulldogs 49-10, while ‘Bama only won 41-30. Compare the halftime scores, though, and a different picture emerges. ‘Bama was up 31-0 at the break, while Florida was up by less than two scores, 14-3.
It also bears mentioning that the Tide played Georgia in Athens, while Florida got the Bulldogs on a neutral field.
3. Florida’s passing game looks great, but so does Alabama’s passing defense.
The perception is that Florida quarterback Tim Tebow is a living legend (if not a Greek god), while Alabama’s John Parker Wilson is a mature game manager who’s at his best when he just doesn’t get in the way.
The stats back up this perception. Florida’s averaging 209 yards per game through the air, while the Tide is merely getting 169 ypg from its passing game.
However, looking on the other side of the ball tells a different story. ‘Bama has the best passing efficiency defense in the SEC. The Gators are at the number four spot.
Neutralizing Tebow’s arm will be monumentally important if the Tide hopes to win in Atlanta. Getting pressure on the quarterback may be key, as Florida has been good but not great protecting Tebow. The Gators are ranked 28th in the country in sacks allowed, giving up 1.33 sacks per game.
Alabama doesn’t have a bundle of sacks, averaging only 1.90 sacks-per-game. But the Tide has been noted for its ability to pressure the quarterback using only their front four. This has meant fewer blitzes and more pressure on opposing quarterbacks than the sack numbers show.
4. Alabama has the edge in the running game.
As for the ground attack, Alabama and Florida are almost identical as far as rushing yards per game. The Gators are averaging 198.67 ypg, and the Tide is averaging 198.60.
However, again, Alabama gets the edge on defense. Florida’s defense gives up 108 rushing yards per game, but Alabama’s defense is giving up only 79 yards per game on the ground.
‘Bama’s rushing defense is ranked first in the SEC and fourth nationally. Florida isn’t even in the Top 20.
Alabama is at its best when it has been able to dominate the line of scrimmage. Time of possession could be key. If Florida can’t stop Alabama’s rushing attack, Tim Tebow and the Gators’ explosive offense could find themselves watching from the sidelines most of the night.
5. The Georgia Dome has been good to the Tide.
Alabama established itself on the national scene with its trouncing of Clemson in the first game of the season, a game played in the Georgia Dome. Although ‘Bama’s win over the Tigers looks less impressive in retrospect, don’t discount the fact that Alabama has already dealt with a favored opponent in a highly-charged game in Atlanta.
Also, Tuscaloosa is a lot closer to Atlanta than Gainesville, and Alabama fans travel well. The ticket sales may be split evenly, but expect there to be a few more crimson shirts in the Georgia Dome come kickoff.
Clearly, there are things that factor against the Tide as well. Alabama’s young team will definitely be challenged by a great Florida squad. However, ‘Bama seems to thrive in high-pressure games, and Florida may not want to book their flights to Miami just yet.
Don’t forget, the last time these two teams met in Atlanta, the Crimson Tide upset the Gators and won the SEC crown.