Fearless Predictions: No. 1 Florida vs. No. 2 Alabama
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No. 1 Florida vs. No. 2 Alabama
Saturday, 9 p.m. ET
Line: Florida -5.5
Finally, something went right in the 2009 college football season.
The Heisman race has been a snoozer, the BCS race hasn’t been all that interesting, a lack of major upsets over the last several weeks kept the same teams up top week after week, and the overall star power wasn’t there. But when it comes to the SEC Championship, the college football gods gave the fans a break. And after Charlie Weis, the retirement of Bobby Bowden, and the ever-present grousing about the lack of a playoff system, a matchup of 12-0 Florida vs. 12-0 Alabama comes at just the right time.
All but preordained from the start of the season, the first 12 games for the Gators and Tide were more about surviving and not screwing up on the way to Atlanta. And while both teams are unbeaten, the ride hasn’t always been smooth. Instead of roaring in as the be-all-end-all juggernauts they were supposed to be from Day One, the two appeared to be going through the motions at times, doing what was needed to get the win and move on.
But for all the concerns and all the issues, Alabama has won its last 12 games since losing to Utah in the Sugar Bowl and has won 25 of its last 27, while Florida has won 22 in a row and 29 of its last 31. You are what your record is, and these two are with Texas at the top of the food chain. However, it’s time for each to show a bit more and actually look like the two best teams in America (or at least two of the top three).
Alabama has kept its passing game under wraps until desperately needed, with the offense, thanks to Mark Ingram, looking more like Wisconsin than the New Orleans Saints. But the formula has worked, as it has for Florida, which has done a better job of hitting on the big pass plays even though the offense operates more like a drippy faucet, going dive play, dive play, dive play, dive play, touchdown. But instead of a high-flying shootout, the two styles of play should create for intense drama in what should be one of the hardest-hitting, most intense SEC battles ever. Think of this as a major league pitchers’ duel between two crafty veterans.
TCU might look at both teams, especially after what Utah did in New Orleans last year, and think it would love to take its cut. Cincinnati’s offense would make things interesting, and Boise State, in a one-game shot, could give either team a serious run. But let’s be honest — it’s Florida vs. Alabama for the SEC Championship with spotless records. It’s what we all wanted.
Alabama will win if… Terrence Cody eats up the dive play. It’s not his job to make tackles, but it is the star defensive tackle’s job to clog everything up to let everyone else produce. However, it didn’t work last week against Auburn, at least early on, with the linebacking corps, most notably the star of the show, Rolondo McClain, making 12 stops but doing so far too often down the field. Florida has the best defensive back in the country, CB Joe Haden, but Alabama has enough rock-solid defensive backs to keep the hit-or-miss Florida passing game from exploding, and if Florida isn’t running its option effectively, the offense will slow to a crawl.
Florida will win if… Tebow is finding TE Aaron Hernandez right away on quick slant patterns. Hernandez deserves the Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end (but he probably won’t win it because Pitt’s Dorin Dickerson, who can’t block, has put up bigger receiving numbers), and he has be a big part of the attack from the start. He was used on a sort of delayed shovel pass against Florida State last week, but McClain and the Tide linebackers, if they’re smarter than they were last week against Auburn, should sniff that out right away. The Florida dive and option plays won’t work if the Tide linebackers are able to sit back and wait for them, as long as they don’t overpursue, and if they’re not worrying too much about Hernandez on mid-range seam routes.
Who to watch: It’s Colt McCoy’s Heisman to lose. He’s the all-time winningest starting quarterback in NCAA history, he’s a good guy, he probably should’ve won it last year, and no one will have any problems if he goes down in college football history as a Heisman winner. All he has to do is be decent against Nebraska, but Mr. Tebow and Mr. Ingram will each get to make their statements before McCoy hits the field on Saturday night.
Tebow has been fine, but anyone else wouldn’t be within 100 miles of the Heisman. He could go from being on the list because he’s Tim Tebow to winning the thing if he does what he did last year to the Tide. Alabama had the game won, but Tebow’s running carried the Gators to the win and to the national title. His 57 yards on the ground were far more meaningful than the relatively low number might suggest, while he was throwing darts, completing 14-of-22 passes for 216 yards and three scores.
For Alabama, Ingram will try to give it a go after suffering a hip injury against Auburn. He was on top of everyone’s Heisman list, but he only ran for 30 yards on 16 carries last week against the Tigers and now might not even be a finalist without a strong performance.
Prediction: Florida 23 … Alabama 16
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