It seems as though everyone is saying, for all intents and purposes, that the SEC Championship game this year is a National Championship semi-final. Alabama is ranked #1, Florida #2, and the winner will undoubtedly advance to play in Miami for the title. They’re also ready to hand Florida the crown before the game is even played.
Florida is the sexy pick
Despite Alabama’s unblemished string of W’s this season, Florida is the near-unanimous pick to win the game, but I’d like to remind everyone of a few things. First: A spread (in which a certain team is favored over another team by a “spread” of points) is dictated by the gambling public. If Vegas sees heavy betting one way or another, they adjust the spread to even out according to what the gambling public believes will happen. So, is it disrespect that Alabama’s a ten point dog? No, they were a 14 point dog last week, and frankly, who cares? The gambling public is not an entirely reliable source. Maybe it is to you, but I still say they fail to consider many key factors when it comes to football.
As it is every year, the gambling public is dazzled by high-powered offenses and for some reason think they’re unbeatable, despite having been proved wrong time and time again since the beginning of football time. Remember what the Bear once said, “Offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships.” So you’ll forgive me if I ignore the gambling public’s opinion and break the game down in a way that a lot of us commoners don’t immediately consider.
The history of the matchup
Alabama leads the all-time series with 21 wins to Florida’s 13. They first played in 1904 (Alabama won 29-0), and last played in ’06 (Florida won 28-13). In their last 20 meetings, Alabama is 13-7 against the Gators, and beat them twice in ’99, once in the regular season and again for the SEC championship. In their last 5 meetings, Alabama still holds the edge, 3-2. That’s the history, of course, and has very little bearing on this weekend’s matchup. Some people might like to predict the outcome based on a trend, but I believe trends are just another record meant to be broken.
The unimportant matchup everyone considers
Both Florida and Alabama have good defenses, and Florida obviously has the more potent offense. With most people, this is as far as a matchup needs to be considered. And this is exactly the reason why everyone under the sun is picking Florida to win.
I hear people asking the question: “How many points will Alabama have to score to keep up with Florida?” or “How many points can Alabama afford to let Florida score in order to have a chance?” The fact is, if the game can be kept close, Alabama can win. If Alabama can score at all, they can win. Alabama’s front seven is as good as any in the country, and their O-line is heralded as the best in the SEC. Games are won in the trenches, folks.
The gambling public, as well as many “experts,” are trying to predict the outcome of this game by looking at unimportant matchups. Florida has the better QB, Florida has the better offense, Alabama gets the slight edge in defense, and look! Florida has slightly better rushing statistics than Alabama. Running the ball is Alabama’s bread and butter, right? So if Florida does that better than Alabama, then it’s a wash, obviously, Florida will win.
They’ll compare defensive secondaries, linebacking corps, running backs and wide receivers. What’s interesting to me is that they rarely compare a receiving corps versus a secondary. I’d rather know how Florida’s O-line will handle Terrence Cody and the Alabama defensive front, than to compare one defensive front to the other, which tells us nothing of how the game will play out.
Matchups–Breaking down the game
The matchups you should be considering are these:
- Can Florida penetrate Alabama’s defensive line, and if so, can they get past the linebacking corps?
- Can Alabama’s O-line move Florida’s front 4?
Florida will move the ball, there’s no disputing that. But Alabama will move the ball as well, you can take that to the bank. The big difference here is that Alabama’s middle line will slow down the Florida rushing attack, and with the line clogged Tebow will have to go to the air or run it himself.
Alabama’s main success will be in running the ball behind the best offensive line in the SEC. And what does that mean, really? It means that Florida will have to adjust to Alabama’s style of play, something Alabama has dictated to their opponents all season long. There hasn’t been a single game this season that Alabama hasn’t dictated the tempo and controlled the clock. And when Alabama forces their opponent to adjust, the scales just tipped into Alabama’s favor. That’s a huge advantage, and people who know football will understand that dictating the tempo and controlling the clock will reap dividends in field position and give more opportunities to get turnovers.
Another interesting statistic to look at is penalties. Georgia is the most-penalized SEC team with 105 penalties this season for nearly 900 yards. Florida is second with 88 penalties for 713 yards. Alabama is giving away the least free yardage in the SEC, with 48 penalties for 422 yards. So, Florida is giving away 60 yards per game, while Alabama is giving away only 35.
What it boils down to
So the real matchup in this game, the biggest question mark left, is this: Can the Alabama secondary manage Florida’s passing attack. And the answer to that question is, undeniably, yes. Because Alabama will have already dictated what they’ll allow Florida to do by clogging the line and controlling the clock.
And the biggest statistic of all
The statistic everyone sees floating right before their eyes but fails to consider in context is this: Florida has not been challenged by any single team this season except the one that beat them. Sometimes it’s good to have to scrap and fight and claw to win a game. So, while some people compare the margins of victory of both teams against LSU, Kentucky and Georgia and see it as a benefit to Florida, it is actually more of a benefit to Alabama. Having had to scrap out some wins means Alabama knows how to do it. Florida’s breezed through their schedule, scoring at will, and the one time they were faced with an opposition who gave them a fight they lost.
Why is everyone ignoring Arkansas?
When comparing margins of victory, everyone keeps bringing up Kentucky, Georgia and LSU. No one considers the Arkansas game. A team Alabama beat 49-14 and Florida beat 38-7. They see broader margins of victory over Kentucky and LSU for Florida and try to predict the outcome of the SEC championship based on those scores. Well, if you’re going to consider those games, shouldn’t you consider Arkansas, too? The fact is that none of those margins of victory mean a thing. That’s the way that team played on that day, and the score reflected the matchups on the field.
The Tebow factor
The only real advantage we can give Florida is their quarterback. Tebow is a difference maker, and the outcome of the game could come down to how well he can run his quarterback draw. If Alabama keeps him in the pocket, look for a Crimson Saturday night.
I think I’ll go with Nick Saban here. Saban is a master strategist and if the game comes down to who’s got the better game plan, Alabama will win. Florida hasn’t had to game plan a win this season. They haven’t had to out-scheme an opponent to rise to victory. The one time they were faced with that challenge they failed. Florida will depend on their superior talent to deliver, and if that talent is neutralized by a superior scheme, they’ll fail.
The end result
The matchups we’ve considered are:
- Penalties. Advantge-Alabama
- Ability to win a close game. Advantage-Alabama
- Florida’s O-line vs Alabama’s defensive front. Advantage-Alabama
- Dictating tempo. Advantage-Alabama
- Scheme. Advantage-Alabama