Prior to last year’s encounter, the Alabama Crimson Tide and Florida Gators hadn’t met in an SEC Championship Game since 2009. On Saturday, the Crimson Tide and Gators are set to lock horns yet again in Atlanta for the second consecutive year.
Like last year, Florida’s surprised many by making it back to the Georgia Dome. On the other side, Alabama steamrolled (again) and is back in the SEC Championship Game (again) and hopes to win the SEC Title and get to the College Football Playoff.
‘Bama walks into this fateful Saturday afternoon clash with not a single blemish under their belt. They’re 12-0 and for the most part have been unfazed, unchallenged and unstoppable.
Florida on the other hand has at times looked sluggish, especially on offense. Their struggles with compiling yards and putting points on the board this season have led to an 8-3 record entering this game. And Vegas oddsmakers aren’t really giving them much respect.
But in a sport that’s seen its fair share of chaos over the years, anything can happen right?
Time: 4 p.m. ET
TV: CBS (Verne Lundquist, Gary Danielson, and Allie LaForce have the call)
Live Stream: CBSSports.com
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Alabama has a slew of skill players, but Florida certainly has the personnel defensively to match up with them. Who’s the player the Tide will have to lean on the most in order to deal damage to the Gators defense?
Jonathan Waldrop (@aukiwal83): My first inclination was to go with ArDarius Stewart because aside from Hurts, he’s easily the least expendable player on the team and his absence in several games this year has bared that out. With Florida’s elite secondary, though, I’m thinking Bo Scarbrough may be the guy they’re going to have to lean on in order to wear them down.
Dalvin Cook did it to them last week and Scarbrough tends to have the hottest hand in big games. He did against LSU and Auburn and it really helped them open up their offense down the stretch.
I love the way Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs have played the position this season, but sometimes you just need the gigantic athlete to get you where you need to go.
Christopher Novak (@ChrisNovakBECB): I’ll agree with my colleague here and say Scarbrough. UF’s secondary is a stellar unit that may be able to give ‘Bama’s receivers out of the gate so the Tide will have to lean on their backs. Bo has been able to wreak havoc this year and ihe stands a good shot at making an impact even against Florida’s stout defensive line.
Bryan Manning @BryanDManning): Hurts are Scarbrough are the first two that come to mind. This is the best defense Hurts has faced all year. Florida’s secondary is outstanding, so he’ll have his hands full.
However, it's on the ground where he can make the biggest impact. He can open up things for Scarbrough and perhaps even some play action later in the game.
If Hurts plays well, Alabama wins in a rout. Scarbrough is the big, rugged back that can wear down UF’s front seven.
Tom Stephenson (@tcstephenson1): What do Tennessee and Florida State have in common? Aside from being the two teams that had the most success against Florida’s defense this year, both had quarterbacks who could make plays with their feet.
See where I’m going with this? Florida is going to have to figure out a way to slow down Jalen Hurts in a way they couldn’t against Joshua Dobbs and Deondre Francois
Conversely, who’s the defensive player for Florida that will be leaned on heavily to make an impact?
Jonathan Waldrop: We’re hearing that so many of the starters on the defense are doubtful for this game, but the good thing is that they may be getting Jarrad Davis back after he’s missed his last three games.
He’s the guy who anchors the defense and if he goes, then he will be flying to the ball. Watch for him, because I think he’ll be on Hurts’ tail the entire game.
Christopher Novak: I’ll cheat and say that the entire secondary should probably be pretty heavily leaned on to keep ‘Bama’s receivers in check. Hurts has been very good at times but if the coverage can stay great it could give way to Florida’s defensive line making plays and forcing mistakes out of the young QB.
Bryan Manning: Florida has the best set of corners in the country and will rely on them to make a big play Saturday. Tabor and Wilson should cover up ‘Bama’s receivers, but at some point Lane Kiffin will take some chances down the field. That's where Florida’s secondary has the chance to help a struggling offense.
Tom Stephenson: For the Gators’ secondary to make a difference, Jarrad Davis and the rest of the linebacking corps are going to have to figure out a way to contain Hurts and force him to make plays with his arm if Florida is going to have a chance in this game.
Alabama has the #1 S&P+ run defense and the #2 S&P+ pass defense. Does the Florida offense stand ANY chance?
Jonathan Waldrop: Not really, but the Bama secondary is susceptible to explosive plays. Even Auburn’s meager passing game broke a couple big ones last Saturday.
If Florida just kinda throws it up and leaves it to the Gods, then they may get a touchdown. Otherwise, I see them being flattened.
Christopher Novak: Doesn’t seem likely, captain.
Bryan Manning: No chance. I can't even be optimistic about this one. The Gators struggle to score against average defenses, and now they play Alabama.
Tom Stephenson: Any chance… to do what, exactly? If we’re asking Florida to score 21 points, no. If we’re asking Florida to win something like 10-7 because the defense dominates… yeah, maybe they can do that.
Let’s play hypotheticals here… say the Tide do lose. Where do you think they fall in the CFP rankings?
Jonathan Waldrop: Probably 3 or 4. It just depends on how Clemson and Washington do in their title games, but they’ll definitely have one of the last two seeds if they lose.
Christopher Novak: No way they get beyond 3 or 4.
Bryan Manning: Unless they're blown out, which isn't happening, I can't see them falling past No. 3.
Tom Stephenson: If the game is close? Honestly, I have a good argument that they stay at 1, because do you think one-loss Ohio State, Clemson, or Washington should be ranked ahead of them?
“Good teams win, great teams cover.” So, the question is… is Alabama a great team?
Jonathan Waldrop: Without a doubt. They’re tough, they’re fast and they play like it. This is a group that plays for the full 60 and that’s been evident in the few times they’ve had to come back from a deficit. The Ole Miss game certainly comes to mind. I’m not sure if they’re Saban’s best, but if they can somehow manage to win out, you’d have to imagine that title being bestowed upon them. Either way, I think this is a great team.
Christopher Novak: Yes, yes they are. ‘Bama is a great team, and they’ll probably cover with relative ease.
Bryan Manning: Absolutely! While it's tough to compare them to recent championship teams, this group has a QB that's getting better every week and can make plays with both his arm and legs. Before, the Tide had game-managers at the position. And that defense. Wow. This is, arguably, the best defense the Tide has had in recent years. ‘Bama’s two-deep is insane and Jonathan Allen is the best player in college football in 2016.
Tom Stephenson: I… do not think they cover. Covering a 24-point spread against a pretty good team is hard, particularly since Florida has a good defense. I can’t see Florida winning… but I think the final score will be like 24-3.