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2008 SEC Championship Fearless Prediction

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Dec 4, 2008


It's a Final Four game as Jermaine Cunningham and Florida try to hand Glen Coffee and Alabama their first defeat of the season. The winner is off to the national championship in what should be one of the most intriguing games of the season. Check out the Preview and Prediction for the 2008 SEC Championship.

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

- SEC Fearless Predictions Aug. 30 | Sept. 6 | Sept. 13 | Sept. 20
- Sept. 27 | Oct. 4 | Oct. 11 | Oct. 18 | Oct. 25 | Nov. 1 | Nov. 8 | Nov. 15
- Nov. 22 | Nov. 29

How are the picks so far? SU: 68-19 ... ATS: 36-43

Florida (11-1) vs. Alabama (12-0)

Dec. 6, 4:00 p.m. ET, CBS

And you said there’s no playoff.

For anyone who wants a college football Final Four, or if you wanted to see what the first round of a Plus One format would be like, here’s your chance in what amounts to the most important non-bowl game since No. 1 Ohio State took on No. 2 Michigan for a shot at the 2006 national title.

National Rankings
Florida Alabama
Total Offense
17th 449.42 ypg 53rd  370.83 ypg
Total Defense
7th  275.67 ypg 3rd  248.5 ypg
Scoring Offense
3rd  46.33 ppg 28th  32.08 ppg
Scoring Defense
4th  12.25 ppg 3rd  11.5 ppg
Run Offense
10th  237.08 ypg 22nd  201.5 ypg
Run Defense
12th  102.75 ypg 2nd  73.58 ypg
Pass Offense
61st  212.33 ypg 97th  169.33 ypg
Pass Defense
17th  172.92 ypg 20th  174.92 ypg
Turnover Margin
1st  1.75 21st  0.75
Florida
Hawaii W 56-10
Miami W 26-3
at Tenn W 30-6
Ole Miss L 31-30
at Arkansas W 38-7
LSU W 51-21
Kentucky W 63-5
Georgia W 49-10
at Vandy W 42-14
So Carolina W 56-6
The Citadel W 70-19
at Fla St W 45-15
Alabama
Clemson W 34-10
Tulane W 20-6
West Kent. W 41-7
at Arkansas W 49-14
at Georgia W 41-30
Kentucky W 17-14
Ole Miss W 24-20
at Tenn. W 29-9
Arkansas St W 35-0
at LSU W 27-21 OT
Miss St W 32-7
Auburn W 36-0
Position Ratings
relative to each other
F 5 highest
1 lowest
A
5 Quarterbacks 4
4 RBs 4
4 Receivers 4
5 O Line 5
3.5 D Line 4
5 Linebackers 5
4.5 Secondary 4.5
5 Spec Teams 3.5
5 Coaching 5

It’s the flash-and-dash of Florida vs. (gulp) a (double gulp) old-school Big Ten style team that (clear throat again) looks very, well, Ohio State-like in the way it runs the ball, plays defense, doesn’t screw up, and gets decent special teams. But it’s more than just a clash of styles and talents. This is either the official reemergence of a superpower, or it’s the confirmation that Florida, not USC, is the preeminent program in college football right now.

The Gators are going for their second national title in three years with head coach Urban Meyer putting together a dizzying array of athletes and next level talents. This team is far better than the 2006 version that backed into the national title and then kicked Ohio State’s teeth in, and at the moment, it’s playing far better than anyone in America … and it’s not even close.

Oklahoma has an offense, a hit-or-miss defense, and shaky special teams. Alabama has a special running game, a tremendous defense, and a serviceable attack. USC has a defense and an offense that might be exposed as completely pedestrian by Penn State in the Rose Bowl. Florida is humming in all phases. The offense is third in the nation in scoring, the defense is fourth in the nation in points allowed, and the special teams are the best in the nation by a ten-mile-wide margin.

In the 31-30 loss to Ole Miss, the Gators had several chances to pull off the win. A blocked kick, overshot receivers, and a blown coverage killed the chance for a perfect season, but the loss might have been the best thing to happen to the team as it got everyone to refocus. Tim Tebow called out himself and the team for not playing as well as they should’ve, he apologized, and ever since then, Florida has gone on an eight game run of utter destruction winning by a combined score of 414 to 97. That’s an average score of around 52 to 12. However, the question has to be asked; how good were those wins?

More to the point, really, how good is Alabama? At 12-0, give Nick Saban and his Tide credit for being the lone unbeaten team from a BCS conference, but the best win this year was over Georgia. As Georgia Tech showed, whoopee to that.

On the surface, Alabama’s run appears incredible. Clemson, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, LSU, Auburn … before the season, who could’ve ever guess that this schedule, an apparent murderers row of powerhouses, would actually turn out to be a great big flaming suckfest? The same goes for Florida’s slate. When all is said and done, last week’s 45-15 win over Florida State might actually be the Gators’ best pre-SEC championship win of the year.

With that said, the winner of this game will get the utmost respect and will be expected to bring the SEC a third straight national title. If Alabama wins, there’s no more talk about how much the SEC schedule it played stunk. The defense will be the 100% real deal, and yeah, like Ohio State the past two years, solid all-around play in a mediocre conference would all of a sudden amount to an epic season with one monster win at the end of the long journey.

The Tide might not be pretty like Florida, but like Texas gets the wrong end of the respect stick competed to the flashier Oklahoma, Bama has been every bit as dominant as Florida; it just happens to do more with the defense. There was the overtime survival against LSU, but take that game away for a moment, and four of the last five games have been decided by a combined score of 132 to 16. Methodical, mistake-free, and as mentally sharp and tough as any team in the country, this team gets it. There’s nothing fluky about this run to the No. 1 spot in the BCS rankings.

Would an Alabama win be a shocker? A little bit, considering how much national love Florida is getting. Would a close win by Florida make Oklahoma, assuming the Sooners beat Missouri in the Big 12 title game, a big favorite in the national title game? Maybe. But if nothing else, these two programs that dominated the early days when the SEC started playing championship games, are probably playing round one of an ongoing rivalry that could become the best in college football. Alabama is only going to get better. Florida isn’t going to go away any time soon.

In the end, this might not end up being a playoff game. This might be the national championship. It might also end up being the game of the season.

Players to watch: Alabama doesn’t have the nationally known, household name who demands the Heisman spotlight like Florida, Oklahoma and Texas boast. It’s unfortunate that offensive linemen don’t get into the Heisman mix because junior left tackle Andre Smith might just be the “most outstanding college football player in the United States for 2008.” The 6-5, 330-pounder future NFL multi-bazillionaire, along with left guard Mike Johnson, center Antoine Caldwell, right guard Marlon Davis, and right tackle Drew Davis, have been the reason why Alabama is unbeaten and No. 1. In tight games, Alabama simply runs the ball, because it can. In blowouts, Alabama simply runs the ball, because it can. Whenever the offense needs something to happen, it runs over Smith and Johnson on the left side and it always produces, because it can.

The key to this game will be how that Alabama offensive line is able to pound away on the talented, but suddenly thin Florida defensive line. The tackles will be lacking depth, with Lawrence Marsh coming off an injury and Brandon Antwine out for the season with a knee injury. Sophomore Terron Sanders has quietly had a strong year and will have to be an anchor throughout in the middle. If Sanders has a bad game, Florida might be in trouble.

If the Alabama running game is able to consistently get past the Gator front four, expect junior LB Brandon Spikes to clean up the mess. With 80 tackles on the year, he’s been the leader and the defensive star of the show. He’s big, fast, active, and soon to be very, very rich as he’s expected to be one of the first linebackers taken in next year’s draft if he chooses to leave a year early.

Of course, Alabama has a few defensive superstars of its own, with sophomore middle linebacker Rolondo McClain and senior free safety Rashad Johnson in charge of keeping the big plays Florida has been living on to a minimum. McClain leads the Tide in tackles with 82, while Johnson is second with 73, and each has been a disruptive force all season long when they get around the ball. McClain has three sacks and a pick, while Johnson has five interceptions and took two back for touchdowns.

Alabama will win if... it controls the tempo and the clock. The Tide is eight in the nation this year in time of possession, holding on to the ball for 32:33 per game. While the stat might turn out to be a bit misleading if Florida starts hitting home runs and going on quick-strike drives, Bama likely can’t pull off the win unless it’s going on long drives that pound away on the Gator defensive front, while it needs its defense to get off the field as soon as possible.

The key will be for Alabama to not panic if Florida gets up early or comes up with a few big bombs early on. Over time, the Tide running game will work and there will be chances over the second half to take control of the game. No one has really tried to get physical on Florida this year outside of Ole Miss, who did as good a job as anyone of running the ball effectively. However, it’s all relative. No one has run wild on the Gators this year, but Bama will have to try.

Florida will win if... the athleticism of the Florida defensive front gives the Alabama offensive line problems. The Tide front five had penalty issues with false starts and holding calls against two of the better defensive lines it faced this year: Kentucky’s (when it was healthy) and Mississippi’s. The Ole Miss defensive front held Alabama to just 107 rushing yards, and while the Tide ran all over the Wildcats, Myron Pryor, Jeremy Jarmon, and the rest of the front four won their share of battles. It’s no coincidence that Alabama had two of its toughest games against the Wildcats and Rebels, and it had one of its other nasty games, the overtime win over LSU, when it had to face another athletic, talented run defense.

Of course, for Florida, the game will ultimately come down to Tim Tebow. This is his chance to push for a second Heisman, and with the way he’s been playing since the Ole Miss loss, he might actually get it with one more huge game. On the year he has thrown 25 touchdown passes and just two interceptions, and he has rushed for 12 touchdowns over the last nine games. He’s making every right decision and every right play, and for Florida to win, he’ll have to be at his sharpest against the most talented defense he has faced this year by far.

What will happen: Alabama will play well early on and will weather the storm, and then two big haymakers thrown by the Florida offense will open things up. Bama QB John Parker Wilson will throw two key interceptions in the second half to turn a close battle into a rout, making the fourth quarter all about the coronation of the Gators as they grind out the clock with its own solid running game.

Line: Florida -9.5 ... CFN Prediction: Florida 31 … Alabama 20

2007 SEC Championship
LSU 21 ... Tennessee 14
LSU outgained Tennessee 464 yards to 343, but needed a bid play from the defense to win the SEC championship. Jonathan Zenon took a long Erik Ainge out pattern throw the other way 18 yards for an LSU touchdown for the winning score. The Vols had one last big chance, but a fourth and four pass on the LSU 21 was dropped by Denarius Moore. Their final drive ended with an interception. The Tigers got two Colt David field goals and a 27-yard Demetrius Byrd touchdown catch from Ryan Perrilloux, who injured his finger, but stay in for most of the game. Tennessee played well with two Erik Ainge touchdown passes with an 11-yarder to Chris Brown and a six-yard play to Josh Briscoe.
Player of the game: LSU CB Jonathan Zenon made six tackles, broke up a pass, and picked off a pass for the game-winning touchdown. Tennessee's Jerod Mayo made 15 tackles and a tackle for loss.
Stat Leaders: LSU - Passing: Ryan Perrilloux, 20-30, 243 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Jacob Hester, 23-120. Receiving: Early Doucet, 5-29
Tennessee - Passing: Erik Ainge, 20-40, 249 yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Rushing:
Arian Foster, 21-55. Receiving: Josh Briscoe, 8-79, 1 TD