Number one vs. number two. Alabama vs. Florida. A spot in the BCS National Championship. College football truly doesn’t get any better than this Saturday.
The 12-0 Alabama Crimson Tide (#2) face the 12-0 Florida Gators (#1) on December 5 in the Georgia Dome for the SEC Championship and a guaranteed spot in the national title game. Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. and the game can be seen nationally on CBS.
Two story lines: Is Alabama running back Mark Ingram 100 percent? Ingram, possibly the runner-up for this year’s Heisman, has been nursing a hip pointer for a couple of weeks. Freshman Trent Richardson is a fine replacement but he isn’t Ingram, at least not yet. The Tide will need Ingram when playing against the best defense in the country.
The Florida Gators will be without starting defensive end Carlos Dunlap. Dunlap, believed to be a first-round pick, was arrested and charged with DUI in the early hours of Tuesday morning. On Tuesday night, Florida head coach Urban Meyer suspended Dunlap indefinitely. Yes, it’s cliché to call such a thing a “distraction.” It’s also a very accurate description.
Alabama will win…
… because that Ingram guy is good enough to be mentioned twice in three paragraphs. A healthy Mark Ingram is the best running back in the country (sorry, Toby Gerhart) and he runs behind one of the best offensive lines in all of college football. Ingram enters the SEC title game averaging a touchdown per contest and 6.5 yards a carry.
Don’t underestimate the Greg McElroy to Julio Jones connection. McElroy may not be Tim Tebow but he is a quarterback with a 61 percent completion percentage and 138.69 QB rating. Jones will be facing off against the best pass defense in the nation and he enters the game with quite a bit of momentum. Jones was arguably the MVP in last week’s Alabama-Auburn contest, especially during the final drive of the football game.
Don’t forget about Alabama’s defense, which has only given up an average of 10.8 points a game during the 2009 college football season. The Crimson Tide held Mississippi to three points, South Carolina to six points and LSU to 15 points. Yes, Auburn did put 21 points on the board against Alabama. In all fairness to the Tide, 14 of those points occurred in the first quarter during the “holy crap what just happened?” period of the football game.
Florida will win…
… because defense wins championships and Florida’s defense is the best in the country. Florida allows less than 10 points a game (held LSU to three points) and the pass rush is in the top 20 when it comes to sacking the quarterback. The Gators are also in the top 10 in defending the run. Of course, all of this was done with Carlos Dunlap playing in each of Florida’s 12 games. Just sayin’.
Then there’s Tim Tebow. I must admit that I am one of the many, many college football/sports fans sick of hearing Tebow’s name mentioned on every ESPN program. There’s still no denying that Tebow is one of the greatest college football players to ever take the field. Tebow won’t be the best athlete on the field this Saturday. He will, however, be the most determined, focused player in Saturday’s game. Is there anybody else in college football today you would want leading your offense down the field for a potential game-winning drive with two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter?
One player to watch is sophomore running back Jeffery Demps. Demps ran for 106 yards on seven carries against a “meh” Florida State defense and averages 7.7 yards a carry. While Alabama is spying on Tebow, Demps could break a big run for six.
Match-up to watch: Florida’s offensive line vs. Alabama’s pass rush. The Gators have very average pass protection and the Tide are 23 in the nation in sacking the quarterback. Perhaps you all remember this play. Ouch.
Prediction: The #1 vs. #2 match-up isn’t just talk in this football game. You really won’t find two more evenly matched football teams than Alabama and Florida. Last year’s SEC title game was a gem that quieted all critics of Tim Tebow. While Florida has won by double digits in each of its games since the middle of October, Alabama escaped lowly Auburn with a last-minute victory. The Tide haven’t looked like world beaters throughout 2009 but they’ve found a way to win in all 12 games.
I think they’ll do so two more times this season.
The 2009 SEC Championship is Alabama’s opportunity to avenge last season’s 31-20 loss to Florida. In 2008, Alabama just didn’t have the horses to beat the Gators in 60 minutes of football. That isn’t the case this season as Alabama has the capacity to keep Florida from scoring 30 points while finding the end zone enough times to win the game. I believe that this year’s game will even be better than the contest we saw last December.
Alabama 23, Florida 21
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Stats courtesy of ESPN and Fox Sports