Although it is certain that Texas football fans, not to mention Cincinnati, TCU, and Boise State fans, would disagree with the statement that the “unofficial” national championship was actually taking place Saturday, December 5, in the Georgia Dome in the SEC Championship game between the #2 Alabama Crimson Tide and the #1 Florida Gators, none of those disagreeing would be Florida Gators or Alabama Crimson Tide fans. Both teams go into the SEC championship game undefeated in the 2009 regular football season, the second year in a row Alabama has taken an undefeated regular season football squad into the SEC Championship Game. This year, just like last year, the stakes are a chance to play in the BCS national championship game.
Florida won both football games last year. They went into the 2008 SEC Championship Game with an 11-1 record and a #2 poll position. They left the SEC Championship Game with a decisive 31-20 victory. The Gators went on to become the national champions, defeating the highly touted Oklahoma Sooners (who vaulted over the Gators in some of the major college polls), 24-14.
The tables are turned this season as Alabama enters the football game Saturday ranked at #2 in the AP Poll and the BCS Standings, right behind their SEC rival. They are looking to stop Florida’s run of 20 straight regular season victories and 22 straight wins altogether.
But it looks to be an intense match-up between these storied schools. Florida not only enters the game with the #1 ranking in the AP Poll and the BCS Standings, they also are ranked #1 in Total Defense in the nation. That defense, which only allows an average of less than 10 points per game, is also the #1 ranked scoring defense in the country. Part of that is the #1 nationally ranked pass defense. They’re rushing defense is pretty good as well, ranking #8 nationally.
Most coaches agree that games are won on defense (and the lack of critical mistakes). Alabama enters the game with the #3 ranked defense in the nation. They are #2 against rushing yardage, slightly more stingy than Florida. They are also #2, right behind Florida, in scoring defense, giving up an average of almost 11 points a game on average. Alabama leads the nation on pass efficiency defense.
And they’re going to need both that #2 rushing defense and that #1 pass efficiency ranking against Tim Tebow and the scoring juggernaut that is the Florida Gators offense. Tim Tebow is ranked #5 in the nation in pass efficiency. Tim Tebow is one of the nation’s leading offensive players, ranking #34 overall, presenting Alabama with a threat from behind the line and rushing as well. Florida’s offense ranks #12 in total offense.
Alabama running back Mark Ingram enters the game ranked #11 in the nation in rushing. Alabama’s offense is ranked 40th nationally, perhaps the largest gap between the two football powerhouses statistically.
If Alabama has an advantage, it may be on both sides of the kicking game. Alabama has the #1 ranked field goal kicker in Leigh Tiffin. Alabama also is ranked #6 in the nation in punt returns, averaging 16 yards per return. With both those defenses and barring mistakes, the game could come down to a field goal set up by a good punt return.
The SEC Championship Game may come down to a field goal. It may not. Statistics mean absolutely nothing in the heat of a football game. But if the statistics amassed during the 2009 regular season by both the Alabama and Florida football teams are any indication, the SEC Championship game will be a low-scoring, defense-dominated affair, perhaps alleviated by a couple of explosive offensive plays.
Because for these two teams and their fans, Saturday’s contest may not be the official national championship, but getting to that the BCS national championship game depends on them acting as if it were.