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SEC Title Game Preview - Florida vs. Arkansas

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Nov 29, 2006


Can Casey Dick come through? The Arkansas quarterback doesn't have to outgun Florida's Chris Leak in the SEC Championship, but he does have to be effective for the Hogs to pull off the win.


SEC
East  Florida | Georgia | Kentucky | South Carolina | Tennessee | Vanderbilt 
West Alabama | Arkansas | Auburn | LSU | Ole Miss | Miss State

- Past SEC Predictions: Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7
Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11 | Week 12 | Week 1
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How are the picks so far? SU: 79-14 ... ATS: 44-37-2

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Get Tickets for the SEC Championship

Arkansas (10-2) vs. Florida (11-1)

Dec. 3, 6:00 p.m. ET, CBS

The SEC championship game should be a cause for celebration as a chance to crown the best team in the nation's best conference. Instead, this year's showdown, despite all the great storylines, is a little bit empty.

Winning the SEC title should be enough to make a season a success by any standard, but Florida is hoping beyond hope to have a shot at the national title. With the nation's toughest schedule, head coach Urban Meyer and the Gator faithful are pleading up and down that a trip to Glendale would be well deserved no matter what USC does against UCLA. However, it'll take a Trojan loss and a Florida win in a big blowout to have any chance of jumping over Michigan to play Ohio State for the national championship. The USC game starts 90 minutes before the SEC Championship, so there will be plenty of scoreboard watching.

BCS title implications aside, a Florida win would mean a return to the top while fulfilling the potential and expectations set when Meyer was hired two years ago, exorcising the demons of the Ron Zook regime, and finally closing the door on the Steve Spurrier era.

For Arkansas, a win would send the program into the stratosphere. A young, young, young team everywhere but on the offensive line, Houston Nutt's club will be the flavor of the year going into 2007 if it can win the SEC title in the program's third shot. The Hogs lost to Georgia in 2002 and to Florida in 1995 by a combined score of 64-6, but this group is much stronger and much more talented. As excited as the fan base and the team might be for a stunning run to the West title, last week's loss to LSU put a bit of a damper on the festivities. That'll quickly be forgotten with a win and a trip the Sugar Bowl.

National Rankings
Arkansas Florida
Total Offense
31st  384.42 ypg 21st  398.25 ypg
Total Defense
29th  299.83 ypg 10th  265.25 ypg
Scoring Offense
21st  30.17 ppg 34th  28.08 ppg
Scoring Defense
21st  16.75 ppg 4th  12.25 ppg
Run Offense
4th  236.25 ypg 41st  156.83 ypg
Run Defense
37th  117.25 ypg 5th  69.67 ypg
Pass Offense
105th  148.17 ypg 25th  241.42 ypg
Pass Defense
36th  182.58 ypg 55th  195.58 ypg
Turnover Margin
74th  -0.25 54th  0.08
Arkansas
USC  L 50-14
Utah State W 20-0
at Vanderbilt W 21-19
Bama W 24-23 2OT
at Auburn W 27-10
SE Miss St W 63-7
Ole Miss W 38-3
UL Monroe W 44-10
at S Carolina W 26-20
Tennessee
W 31-14
at Miss St W 28-14
LSU L 31-26
Florida
So. Miss W 34-7
UCF W 42-0
at Tenn. W 21-20
Kentucky W 26-7
Alabama W 28-13
LSU W 23-10
at Auburn
L 27-17
Georgia W 21-14
at Vandy W 25-19
S Carolina W 17-16
W Carolina
W 62-0
at Fla St W 21-14
Position Ratings
relative to each other
A 5 highest
1 lowest
F
2 Quarterbacks 4.5
5 RBs 3.5
3.5 Receivers 4
5 O Line 4
4 D Line 5
4 Linebackers 4.5
4 Secondary 3
3.5 Spec Teams 3.5
4 Coaching 5

The Hogs were supposed to be a year away from being a player. With a great recruiting class led by QB Mitch Mustain, and several underclassmen needing time, no one expected a championship with Auburn and LSU looking like preseason national title contenders. After a 50-14 loss to USC to start the season, getting to Atlanta hardly seemed like a reasonable dream. After squeaking by Vanderbilt and beating Alabama in overtime on a missed extra point, the Hogs shocked the college football world by rolling past Auburn 27-10 to take the lead role in the West race.

The schedule worked out perfectly over the second half of the season with breather after breather allowing the team to mature, improve, and gain confidence. By the time the road trip to South Carolina and the home date with Tennessee came around, the Hogs appeared ready to fulfill their potential much earlier than expected.

While Arkansas had it relatively easy for an SEC team playing six bowl bound teams, along with dregs like Utah State, SE Missouri State and UL Monroe, Florida was dealing with a slate that didn't just turn out to be the toughest, it was No. 1 by a relatively large margin over Cincinnati's schedule. Oh sure, there was a Western Carolina and a UCF to deal with, and some of the heavy hitters didn't turn out to be that big a deal, but a schedule that saw Southern Miss (who's in the Conference USA title game), Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida State meant the Gators played nine bowl bound teams, and now it gets Arkansas.

Everyone was waiting all year for the Gators to break out and start funnin' 'n' gunnin' Urban-Utah style, but it never happened. Florida won on defense, timely offense, and always getting the spark of life just when it was needed most from freshman QB Tim Tebow. Just getting through the tough schedule is impressive, but now it's about style.

Will Florida be so focused on trying to win big that it might lose press too hard? Will the Arkansas ground game roll on the nation's fifth ranked defense? Forget the national title ramifications; this game will be fantastic on its own.

Players to watch: While the main talk has been about Florida's BCS title chances, the other national focus will be on Arkansas RB Darren McFadden and his Heisman chase. While he has no shot of beating out Ohio State QB Troy Smith, after Brady Quinn and Notre Dame lost to USC, McFadden suddenly became the fashionable number two choice after his breathtaking 182-yard, two touchdown two-for-two passing day against LSU. If he has a 100-yard game, cranks out one big "wow" run, and Arkansas wins, he'll finish in the top three in the voting.

Sure, everyone knows McFadden, and most college fans know about running mate Felix Jones, but name one Arkansas offensive lineman? Tony Ugoh, Stephen Parker, Jonathan Luigs, Robert Felton, and Zac Tubbs form the nation's best offensive line paving the way for the nation's fourth best running game and leading the country in sacks allowed giving up just eight. This is a tight, veteran group with all seniors except for Felton, a junior. If Arkansas wins, it'll be because this front five dominated. However, Florida's defensive front isn't going to be pushed around.

The Gators have used several different combinations on the defensive line this year, and all seemed to work. This group has gotten a decent push all season long into the backfield and has been a brick wall against the run. Tackles Ray McDonald and Joe Cohen were rocks against the run last week, while ends Jarvis Moss and Steven Harris got consistent pressure on the Seminole backfield. This group doesn't have to stop the Hog running game cold, but it can't allow gaping holes and needs to force Hog QB Casey Dick to hurry his passes.

Arkansas will win if... the passing game isn't abysmal. Dick was awful against LSU last week unable to make even the most average of throws while doing nothing in crunch time finishing with 62 yards, a touchdown pass and an interception completing five of 20 passes. Florida's secondary can be beaten, and Dick has to at least provide a hint of a passing threat or the Gator linebackers and safeties will eat the running game alive. In wins over Auburn, South Carolina and Tennessee, the passing game was ultra-efficient, but the Gamecock game got close because of two interceptions. Arkansas almost lost to Alabama partly because Mitch Mustain threw three picks. Hog quarterbacks threw three interceptions in the blowout loss to USC. If Dick and/or Mustain can limit the picks to one at most and complete around 60% of their passes, Arkansas will win.

Florida
will win if... it doesn't panic when McFadden or Jones hits the inevitable home run, and if it doesn't pull a Kansas State and start watching the scoreboard. The 1998 Wildcats were locked in a three-way battle with Tennessee and UCLA for the two national title spots, so when the Bruins lost to Miami 49-45, KSU fans and players started to celebrate midway through the Big 12 title game knowing that a spot in the championship was assured with a win. They lost focus and Texas A&M came back to win a thriller. Florida will know what its BCS Championship potential might be late in the third quarter. Arkansas has the ability to strike any time from anywhere on the field, so the Gators have to be focused for the entire game. The Hog ground attack, and WR Marcus Monk, are too good to keep down the entire game, so when they do get a score and the momentum shifts, the Gators have to go on a march and get it right back. A veteran quarterback like Chris Leak can make that happen. 

What will happen: Rule number one in a big championship/bowl type of game: go with the team with the veteran quarterback. Sometimes rules are made to be broken. Even though Leak deserves to go out with an SEC championship after a tumultuous career, the Arkansas running game will be too much to overcome with the line cranking out one of its best games of the season. Florida will have its moments of explosion, but the offense won't be consistent enough to keep up with the Hog attack that'll crank out 250 yards. Even though Dick won't be great, he'll connect with Marcus Monk on two game-changing plays to turn the momentum. The Gators will miss three field goals.

Line: Florida -3 ... CFN Prediction:
Arkansas 24 ... Florida 21

2005 SEC Championship
Georgia 34 ... LSU 14

D.J. Shockley threw two perfect strikes to Sean Bailey for touchdown passes from 45 and 29 yards out for a 14-0 lead, and he ran for a seven-yard score capitalizing on a blocked punt from Bryan McClendon. The Dawgs only managed 250 yards of total offense, but the defense held LSU to 230 only allowing a one-yard JaMarcus Russell touchdown run before Dwayne Bowe caught a 19-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth after the outcome had been decided. Russell was knocked out of the game with an injured shoulder.
Player of the game: Georgia QB D.J. Shockley completed six of 12 passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns and ran seven times for ten yards and a touchdown.
Stat Leaders: LSU - Passing: JaMarcus Russell, 11-19, 120 yds, 1 INT
Rushing: Shyrone Carey, 10-43 Receiving: Dwayne Bowe, 5-74, 1 TD
Georgia - Passing: D.J. Shockley, 6-12, 112 yds, 2 TD
Rushing:
Thomas Brown, 14-62. Receiving: Sean Bailey, 2-74, 2 TD