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SEC Championship Expanded Preview Blog

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Dec 4, 2008


SEC Week 14 storylines and lookaheads for every game.

SEC Storylines Blog

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Big East By J.P. Girouard; Big 10 By Tony Castricone; Big 12 By Sean Martin; Conference USA By Greg Vacek; Independents By Adam Nettina; MAC By Adam Nettina; Mountain West By Jim Riffel; Pac 10 By Dan Greenspan; SEC By Gabe Harris and Barrett Sallee; Sun Belt By John Martello; WAC By Jon Tavares

Florida (11-1) vs. Alabama (12-0) 4 pm
--Oklahoma might have the nation’s hottest offense, but no one’s playing better in all phases over the second half of the season than Florida. Since the loss to Ole Miss in late September, the Gators have been breathtaking, winning their last eight games by a combined score of 414 to 96. No one has come closer than 30 points of beating them. While ranked fourth in the BCS, it’s a foregone conclusion that a win over the nation’s No. 1 team would boost the Gators up into the top two and into their second national title appearance in three years. It’s also a showcase game for Tim Tebow in the Heisman race, who’s making a late run for his second straight award by putting the team on his back after apologizing for the loss to Ole Miss. Since the SEC went to the championship format in 1992, this is Florida’s ninth appearance in the championship game.
--Alabama is back in the SEC title game for the first time since 1999 when it beat Florida 34-7 and, as the No. 1 team in the BCS rankings and the only unbeaten BCS conference team, will obviously be off to the BCS Championship for a shot at the program’s first national title since 1992. Head coach Nick Saban had been amassing a dizzying array of top prospects over his first two recruiting classes, and they blended well with a group of good veterans to form one of the nation’s surprise teams. Conventional wisdom assumed the Tide would grow into a national title caliber program around 2010, once all the top recruits started to mature, but everything is ahead of schedule. While not flashy like Florida or Oklahoma, the Tide has been dominant. Overtime was needed to get by LSU, but the four other games in the last five were blowouts with Bama beating Tennessee, Arkansas State, Mississippi State and Auburn by a combined score of 132 to 16.
Florida:
All eyes are on the injury ankle of Percy Harvin, who sprained it against Florida State early last week. The team’s leading receiver, and second leading rusher, is expected to give it a try, but he’s still considered questionable, and at the very least, limited. Starting defensive tackle Lawrence Marsh was kept out of the Florida State game with a minor knee injury, but he’s expected to be healthy enough to play for a suddenly depleted Gator defensive interior. Backup defensive end Duke Lemmens is expected to be back after missing the last few games with a stinger.

Alabama: The team is using the us-against-the-world attitude. The Tide players have talked all week about how they’re being disrespected as a 10-point underdog, and while motivation isn’t an issue, it hasn’t hurt the team’s focus. Injury-wise, the team has been relatively healthy. Backup running back Roy Upchurch had a neck problem and missed most of the Auburn game, while little used WR Will Oakley isn’t expected to play with a shoulder injury.
Florida has to … get up quickly. Alabama has a decent passing game, but it can’t win in a shootout. It needs to get pounding early on and control the game with the defense, so Florida has to get the tempo up early, get several different weapons involved, and take Bama out of its game by getting a few quick scores. Field position is a must for the Tide, who’ll rely on trying to grind out the clock and slow things down a bit, but Florida’s return game is tremendous while Alabama is last in the SEC in kickoff returns. A long field won’t bother the Gators, but if Alabama is starting on its own 20 time and again, it’ll sputter.
Alabama has to … blast away on the Gator interior. Florida might have the nation’s 12th best run defense, but that’s partly because teams have had to throw to keep up the pace. The depth at defensive tackle is non-existent, and the longer the Tide can keep the game close, and the longer the big, talented offensive line can wear down the Florida D, the better. Winning the turnover battle will also be a must, but that could be a problem considering Florida leads the nation in turnover margin. Alabama might need a key break or three.
Keep an eye on … Florida QB Tim Tebow. He has been nothing short of sensational over the last eight games with two touchdowns or more in each game and 10 touchdown runs since the loss to Ole Miss. Since the defeat, he has taken on the personal responsibility for playing better, and for getting the team to focus and play better. It has all worked, as this is a fully focused team playing every play hard, even against Citadel a few weeks ago. It’s all coming from the example set by the top man.
The number to know: 176.33 – That’s the combined number of rushing yards Florida and Alabama are allowing per game. To put this in perspective, 24 teams are allowing more yards on the ground than these two are giving up combined. Florida is 12th in the nation against the run, while Alabama is second (behind TCU).
And the winner is … Florida 31 … Alabama 17