Last Week: 9-0 straight up, 7-2 against the spread
Season: 91-17 straight up, 65-32-1 against the spread
Yesterday, I sat down to try to write a post on how Florida could defeat Alabama. I've yet to see anyone pick the Gators to win the SEC Championship, and that's no accident or case of pro-Crimson Tide bias. Still, maybe I could find some kind of hidden edge somewhere that could lead to a UF upset win.
Observant readers will note that no such post went up yesterday. For every place I found Florida with some kind of advantage against the Tide, I found a similar if not greater advantage for Alabama.
A perfect example is in tackles for loss. The Bama offensive line has allowed seven TFLs per game in SEC play, a full one TFL per game higher than its previous worst since 2008 (six per game in 2010). The seven per game puts the Tide 12th in the SEC. Florida's defense, as it happens, is second at 7.63 TFLs per game in league play. Sounds like an edge, right?
Well, UF is 13th in the conference in TFLs allowed at 7.13 per contest. And Alabama's defense? It's tied with Ole Miss for third at 7.25 per game. Whatever benefit Florida might get from tackles for loss on defense, it's going to give it right back on offense.
After jogging through a bunch of stats and history, all I could come up with is this: UF's best chance is to try to recreate the 2011 Alabama-LSU game where the Tigers won 9-6 in overtime. The LSU defense held well enough that it kept Bama's offense very conservative. That enabled the Tigers to win despite Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson combining for a line of 9-for-17 (53%), 94 yards (5.3 YPA), no TDs and two picks, which computes to a passing efficiency of 76.9. I wouldn't be shocked if Treon Harris's line for the game ends up somewhere around there.
Except that 2011 LSU could make field goals, while this Florida team cannot. And that Tiger team sent a couple dozen players to the NFL, which this year's Gator squad won't. And Jim McElwain was that offensive coordinator for Alabama who went overly conservative in that game.
This all isn't to say that Florida can't win; they play the games for a reason, after all. However if you were to design a team to defeat this year's Gators, it'd look like Alabama.
Anyone who paid attention in the offseason could've told you that Florida would fade as soon as its offensive line began to get banged up, and that explains a lot of the past month's struggles. "Patchwork" only begins to describe a unit whose best five include two sophomores with almost no experience prior to this year, a true freshman, and an FCS graduate transfer. It's not been its best self lately, and this weekend is no different. Starting left tackle David Sharpe, who's been in and out of the lineup the past few weeks, re-injured his foot in practice this week and may not play.
Meanwhile, Alabama has one of the biggest, fastest, strongest, and deepest front sevens that have ever taken the field for a college football team. They are far more likely than not to maul the Gator front, stuffing up the run game and harassing Harris. The Florida run game did perk up against FSU last week thanks to a few more holes than normal opening up, but pass blocking was still more bad than good. It also wasn't against Bama's front either.
Looking solely at this year, Florida can win if Alabama plays like it did against Tennessee or Auburn, and the Gators play like they did against Ole Miss or Georgia. Football teams aren't discrete points of quality; they're more like bell curves, and you never know which end of the quality spectrum they'll end up on heading into a contest. There is a place on the distributions that allows for UF to outplay Bama and win. That place is a small place, but it does exist.
With even an outside shot at the playoff top four off of the table, the Gators have nothing to lose. They've exceeded all expectations, and no one expects them to win now. By winning the SEC East, even in a bad year by the division's own low standards, McElwain has bought plenty of goodwill to just throw everything including the kitchen sink out there and see if anything works.
Bama, meanwhile, has all the pressure on it, and it showed in the Iron Bowl. Basically five players other than the line did all the work on offense, with Derrick Henry carrying the ball an absurd 46 times and ArDarius Stewart, Calvin Ridley, and Richard Mullaney accounting for 96% of pass targets (Jake Coker is the fifth, of course). I don't think Lane Kiffin will play things as conservatively as McElwain did in the 9-6 game, but I don't think he'll be in full-on attack mode the whole way either.
Alabama is a 17-point favorite in the game, and I don't think it'll cover. Florida's defense will make just enough plays to keep it close while a tight Crimson Tide team fails to run up the score. The advanced stats love this Bama team about as much as any of Saban's best save 2012, but in watching it, this year's Tide lacks often the destroyer-of-worlds quality that past editions have had.
A blowout victory for Alabama is definitely on the table, but give me Florida to cover, barely. Alabama 30, Florida 14