The aforementioned (and under-celebrated, frankly) Jerry was prescient in his own right in the immediate aftermath of last year’s Florida victory, opining, “With the talent on that field and the state of the SEC, I think a rematch in this game next year would be posted at less than even odds.” I hope you took that genius to your bookmaker, Jerome.
And so, after a season that was nothing so much as a prelude to the inevitable, Florida and Alabama meet once more to settle the championship of college football’s premier conference. Since we’re equal parts lazy and unwilling to work too hard, Mark and I pretty much just cut-and-pasted last year’s preview. As I type this, I don’t know Mark’s predicted final score, but I’m planning to drive to Atlantic City and place a shitload of money on a single roulette spin if it’s the same as mine.
1. What scares you the most about Saturday’s game?
Rob: Florida’s defense, especially if I’m driving in Gainesville after the bars close. Hiyo! No, what scares me the most is the prospect of Greg McElroy having to make plays against Florida’s defense. The Gators have the nation’s top-ranked defense, allowing 233.08 yards per game. They’re fast, tough, and disciplined. Corner Joe Haden might be the best defensive back in America – and he’ll be locked up on Julio Jones, Alabama’s most explosive playmaker. The loss of Carlos Dunlap to DUI-related suspension limits Florida’s options somewhat on the defensive line, but I expect the Gator defense to be the most effective unit on the field, nonetheless. Mark Ingram’s health and effectiveness will be a huge story – Alabama can’t win if they aren’t successful in moving the ball on the ground. Ingram and Trent Richardson have to keep the heat off of McElroy.
Mark: That one of Florida's premier players will miss the game due to a suspension that was both highly avoidable and a black eye for the program. Oh...wait. In all seriousness, there are a couple of things that worry me about this game. First, will the absence of Carlos Dunlap severely affect Florida's ability to rush the passer? This isn't solely because of Dunlap's pass rushing ability. Good as Dunlap is, it was his size and versatility that allowed Florida to run some of their most effective defensive packages. I'm specifically talking about the 3-3-5 or "Joker" package. In this package, Florida lined up Dunlap and Jermaine Cunningham as ends on a 3 man defensive line with Justin Trattou (a DE) lined up over center. Florida then uses MLB Brandon Spikes as a hybrid LB/DE thereby creating mismatches and confusion for offensive lines. This package first appeared (as far as I know) during the 4th quarter of last year's SEC Championship game when Spikes started routinely beating All-American OT Andre Smith around the end and creating chaos in Alabama's backfield. With Dunlap out, I still expect to see Florida run some 3-3-5 in this game but there's just no way it can as effective without a physical freak of Dunlap's order in the game. Expect to see some combination of William Green, Jaye Howard and maybe even Trattou (moved from the nose back to end) when Florida's brings out the Joker in obvious passing situations.
The second thing that scares me about tomorrow's game is Alabama's ability to run the ball directly at Florida's defense. There was a point in the 3rd quarter of last year's game when Glen Coffee and Mark Ingram were gashing the Florida defense with runs up the middle. Which was setting up play action passes that were also killing Florida. I can remember thinking that Florida was going to lose because they simply couldn't stop the run. Now, Alabama's OLine isn't as good as last year but they aren't exactly a collection of bums either. On top of that, Mark Ingram's better than Glen Coffee was last year. If Florida can't force Alabama into 3rd and long situations by shutting down the Tide run game, there's simply no way they can win this game.
2. What single player would you drug like Gus the Kicking Mule in order to keep him from making it to kickoff?
Rob: There’s an obvious answer to this question, but I’ll eschew it in an attempt to increase my degree of difficulty score. I’m giving a roofie to Florida tight end Aaron Hernandez. Dating back to last season’s SEC Championship, every single time Florida has faced 3rd and 4-7 yards, Tim Tebow's completed a pass to Hernandez for a first down. Every single time. True fact.
In last year’s game, Hernandez made two critical 4th quarter catches, gaining 6 yards on a 3rd and 5 shovel pass from the Alabama 9 to set up the eventual game-winning score and later picking up a first down inside Alabama’s 10 on the Gators’ final scoring drive. The stats say he caught 3 balls for 43 yards in the game, but we all know better. I fully anticipate heaving something at my television after a key Hernandez reception at least once on Saturday.
Mark: For the second year in a row, Rob's answer to this question is probably Tim Tebow. It's also the second year in a row one of his top 5 options for this questions has been eliminated due to suspension or injury. I'm not trying to be a whiny bitch here, but I'd really enjoy playing Alabama with Florida's full complement of players. Anyway, back to the question. I went back and forth on this question for a while and it came down to four guys. Julio Jones is always a concern but he's also somewhat dependent on others to be effective. Mark Ingram is the best damn tailback in the SEC so I'd never have an issue with him missing the game due to a mugging on the MARTA, and even Leigh Tiffin was a consideration as points feel like they're going to be at a premium in this game.
However, in the end, I had to go with Rolando McClain. He's the leader of a terrific Alabama defense, a physical freak, and an unbelievably smart MLB who (in my opinion) is the only LB in the country as good or better than Brandon Spikes. Keeping McClain off Florida's stable of small speedy tailbacks (as well as their large, bullish FB/QB) will be key to the Gators' ability to establish the run and spread the field. When Florida does spread the field, McClain has proven to be a frequent and adept blitzer off the edge (the combo blitz Bama runs with McClain and CB Javier Arenas is devastating in it's speed and effectiveness) in passing situations. Rolando McClain, there's a VIP card with your name on it for tonight at Magic City, compliments of me (Link very, very NSFW). You've had a great season, son. Reward yourself.
3. What do you hate most about the other team?
Rob: You know what I hate? I hate the fucking Nutcracker. According The Washington Post’s dance critic, Sarah Kaufman, “The tyranny of "The Nutcracker" is emblematic of how dull and risk-averse American ballet has become.” Amen, sister. The tyranny of the Nutcracker will also keep me from seeing any of the first half of Saturday’s game, as my daughters will be performing in a local production. And no, I can’t Tivo it – my inability to watch recorded sports is well documented. I’ll see you people in the comments around halftime.
What’s this got to do with Florida? Hell if I know. I really don’t hate them. Except their coach, and I only hate him because my sister says he’s a dick. Blood is thicker than water.
Mark: You mean besides Nick Saban's penchant for taking advantage of little asian boys? Well...there's just so much to hate. The self-entitled swagger of fans who weren't even alive when Bear Bryant was winning SEC titles. The terrible haircuts or use of pom-poms (Yeah, yeah they're "shakers", I know) by grown men who are all essentially wearing the same outfit. The not quite under the surface racism that's bubbling from every Alabama tailgate and party. I could go on all day.
I guess what I hate most about Bama is that they're back in Atlanta again. Don't get me wrong, beating Bama is absolutely the way Florida's team and their fans want to win the SEC Championship. They are clearly one of the two best teams in the conference and this game would feel a little less special if both Florida and Alabama weren't both here (and to a lesser extent both undefeated) but that doesn't mean I have to enjoy Alabama's excellence in execution, attention to detail and toughness. I much preferred facing Houston Nutt in the SEC Championship Game. It was much, much easier on my nerves (and often times pretty funny too).
Oh wait, I almost forgot. I hate that because the SEC Championship Game was originally played in Birmingham. Alabama fans have far greater access to Championship game tickets than any other fanbase in the SEC. I'm not even joking here. Something like 65% of all tickets are reserved for Tide fans every year. On the years they make it to this game, they come out in full force and pack the fucking Georgia Dome with their barbecue sauce-stained, inbred faces. Tomorrow will be no different. You know, I think I hate everything about Bama. It's probably too hard to narrow down.
4. What’s your prediction?
Rob: Alabama’s defense is terrific. Florida’s defense is terrific. Alabama’s got a good kicker. So does Florida. Alabama’s got an explosive kick returner. Gators do, too. Alabama can run the ball with a pair of talented backs. Florida’s got the 6th-ranked rushing attack in the country. Alabama’s quarterback has gotten better as the year has gone on, but is still a first-year starter facing the country’s top defense. Florida’s quarterback….ohhhhh, I see.
There’s really no sugarcoating this. Tebow’s the difference. Carlos Dunlap’s absence might be worth a few yards and a score – it’s enough to provide a scintilla of hope. But Tebow might be the greatest college player in a generation. His leadership was the difference last year, and as much as I’d like to, I can’t figure out how Alabama beats him on Saturday. It’s close again, but the Gators win, 23-14.
Mark: This prediction has changed some in recent days due to lineup changes and a general anxiety about Saturday's proceedings. In fact, I nearly changed my winner at one point earlier this week. However, I feel like Florida's defense is still going to be strong enough to slow down the Tide offense and that Florida's secondary should be good enough to create a couple of turnovers during this game. That and some sterling special teams play will create good enough field position for the Gator offense to create problems for the Bama defense and push Florida to another close, hard earned win and SEC Title.
Florida 23, Alabama 17.
Rob: I changed my predicted score from 23-17 to 23-14 at the final moment. I'm thinking about changing it back - none of you would be the wiser, and it could set up the most amazing thing in the history of ever. I'd do it, too, except that the Large Hadron Collider might find out and decide that our time here on Earth is over.