'Bama, Florida one step closer to Atlanta

With Alabama and Florida on top of the polls, fans may recall the battles of the 2008 and 2009 seasons.

To quote Yogi Berra, it's like deja vu all over again.

With about a month left in college football's regular season, we are once more faced with the prospect of a Florida-Alabama SEC Championship Game that will be the de facto national title game.

It will be the third time in five years that the game in Atlanta in early December will likely be better than the one in mid-January where the crystal football is given out.

And just as was the case in the good, ol' days before Tim Tebow and Mark Ingram moved on to greater football riches and Urban Meyer retired and unretired twice over, the Tide and Gators appear headed on a collision course.  

Florida reaffirmed its No. 2 spot in the BCS rankings with a 44-11 trouncing of No. 7 South Carolina despite 74 yards of Gators penalties.

Granted, South Carolina missed Marcus Lattimore, but Florida played inspired defense, holding the Gamecocks to just three third-down conversions while all-purpose tight end, running back and wildcat quarterback Trey Burton forced and recovered a fumble, completed a pass and was instrumental in numerous wildcat QB runs that kept drives alive.

But it was the Gators defense that won this one, forcing four takeaways.

"I don't know if anyone does it better than Dan Quinn," said Florida coach Will Muschamp of the Gators' defensive coordinator. "In every meeting, we spend a lot of time talking about stripping the ball when they don't have it high and tight, and most of our defensive guys are on special teams, so that is constantly pounded into their heads."

At plus 11 in turnovers this season, the Gators head to Jacksonville for the Georgia game as the clear favorite to lock up the SEC East. They is also little doubt they are the second-best team in the nation. 

The best, Alabama, did what it has done all season: Wear opponents out with the best offensive line in college football and a relentless, swarming defense that has very few off days.

This time, Tennessee was the victim. Not only did the Vols lose, 44-13, to the Tide, but Derek Dooley's squad also got pushed around and demoralized, losing the battle at every position.

Before kickoff, Alabama coach Nick Saban talked about the "explosive" Tennessee offense and how his team hadn't faced a quarterback and receiving corps like Tyler Bray, Justin Hunter, Marlin Lane and Cordarrelle Patterson all year.  

But it was Saban's skill players, starting with quarterback A.J. McCarron, who put on a clinic. McCarron threw for 306 yards and four touchdowns. Even more impressive, he completed his seventh game of the season without an interception.

After playing pitch and catch with Amari Cooper for most of the first half, McCarron began handing the ball to the tandem of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon who had 79 and 129 respective rushing yards. Yeldon had two touchdowns and averaged 8.6 yards per touch.

''We set the tone, and we stayed on it,'' McCarron said. ''We never let up, and that was the biggest thing Coach keeps preaching.''

It was, at its core, a football clinic. Alabama was methodical, precise, physical and unrelenting. Even after the subs came in late in the fourth quarter, defensive coordinator Kirby Smart yelled on every play, imploring the second-stringers to deny the Vols a late touchdown.  

They did, holding Tennessee to just three points in the second half.

In the process, the Tide looked like an unstoppable force, a team that will tick off wins like boxes on a "things to do" list right up until they reach the SEC title game.  

That is when things will get interesting.

Those who watched the 2008 and 2009 Florida-Alabama games in Atlanta know that they saw the two best teams in the country.

The way things are headed, we could be treated to the same thing once more.

The Associated Press contribued to this article.