All this week I've tried to keep my reporter hat on and assess the two SEC Championship Game participants with a clear and level head. I know I didn't do a perfect job at it, but I did my best.
Today on the day of the game, I come to you simply as a fan. A fan of Florida, yes, but hopefully one that's simply living in the state of North Carolina and not the state of denial. If you don't want to read the account of my personal feelings on the game, which do not necessarily reflect the views of Team Speed Kills and make no pretense of being unbiased, don't click the jump.
There is a thought I've had in my head for about half of the season, and I see no reason to change it now. This year's SEC title game is not going to live up to last year's.
The 2008 game had it all: big performances from big stars, several lead changes, a relatively low penalty count, and a dramatic fourth quarter comeback. This season, both defenses are better while neither offense is as good. I expect this one to get dragged down into the figurative mud and be the sort of game where blocking and tackling gets overshadowed to a degree by punting and kicking.
It is for that reason why I'm glad Florida has Chas Henry and that he punts the ball high enough that almost no one even bothers to attempt a return. I'm also glad that Caleb Sturgis can make field goals from more than 50 yards out and correspondingly that the game is indoors. I know Alabama's special teams aren't anything to dismiss, but when pressed, I'll take the ones that are coached by the head coach.
Beyond that, I can't really say too much that I haven't already said at some point this week. These teams are evenly matched to a ridiculous degree, at least when you look at the season as a whole. However, I know Florida is capable of more than what it has been doing for a lot of the year.
Like Mulder, I want to believe that the Gators are peaking at the right time given their performances over the last month. While Georgia, Vanderbilt, FIU, and FSU didn't exactly present stiff defensive challenges, Florida at least began executing a lot better against them (and South Carolina). The Gators are +9 in turnovers (11 gained, two lost) since the Cocktail Party after having been -1 on the year up until then. Plus we'll never know to what degree Tim Tebow was hampered by his concussion through the October stretch; even if he was fine medically, taking a shot like that will make anyone tentative for a time. Whatever that did, he's over it now.
There are a lot of things that go into football games. I could probably show you 50 different relevant stats that describe various aspects of games. It's the ultimate team sport, and it has more moving parts than just about any other game. However when 48 of those 50 stats indicate that two teams are evenly matched, what do you do?
I'm going with Tebow. He came back to win championships, and I know better than to bet against him. He has the same kind of je ne sais quoi about him that Florida basketball's Oh Fours had, and they were the last major sports team to repeat. Brandon Spikes put off for a year using NFL contract money to get a good lawyer to try to get his brother out of jail (with said brother's blessing) in order to win championships. If the Gators fall this afternoon, he will have done that in vain.
You can pick whatever factor or edge you want in deciding who you think will win this game. Me, I'm sticking with Tebow and Spikes. I've rarely ever seen a better combination of offensive and defensive leader both on the field and off. I might go down with them this afternoon, but I'd much rather do that than doubt them. I've seen too much over the past couple of years to do anything that rash.
Florida 16 - Alabama 13.