Thursday, December 3, 2009
What to watch: SEC championship game
By Chris Low
All of your questions will be answered two days from now.
Who’s better on defense? Can Greg McElroy get it done? Does Tim Tebow sparkle again in the fourth quarter? Can Alabama avenge last season’s bitter loss?
It’s Alabama vs. Florida for all the SEC marbles on Saturday at the Georgia Dome.
Here’s an SEC championship game version of what to watch:
1. Dealing with distractions: The good thing for Florida is that the Gators have been putting out fires since before the season started. So they ought to be used to this. There was all the Urban Meyer-Lane Kiffin stuff, the Meyer-to-Notre Dame rumors, the flu bug in September, Tebow’s concussion, Meyer being fined by the SEC, all the gaudy expectations and now star defensive end Carlos Dunlap’s DUI arrest and suspension and the likelihood that defensive coordinator Charlie Strong is on his way to Louisville as head coach. It’s been an eventful week for the Gators. It’s been an eventful season. Can they overcome it all one final time and move a step closer to their third national championship in four years? We’re going to find out.
2. Ingram’s health: Despite his hip pointer, Alabama running back Mark Ingram has been practicing this week and will play Saturday. The word coming out of Alabama is that he looks fine, although it still remains to be seen how he might be affected if he takes a couple of early hits on that hip. Ingram had an extra day to rest it, which helps. The Crimson Tide won’t be hesitant about using freshman Trent Richardson, either. He was on the field that final drive against Auburn, and several in and around the Alabama program think he has more raw ability than Ingram. The Crimson Tide won’t have to change their game plan regardless of who’s in the game. Ingram might not be 100 percent, but he’s itching to play in this game and show his stuff against the best defense he’s faced all season.
3. Being special on special teams: Florida has the best special teams in the country, which has long been an Urban Meyer staple. The Gators are 14-0 under Meyer when they block a punt. This season, they’ve only had three punts returned against them for a total of 13 yards, and Brandon James has returned four punts and one kickoff for touchdowns during his career. They can beat you a number of different ways on special teams, which means the Crimson Tide need to have one of their better games in special teams. They’ve been particularly shaky in kickoff coverage, finishing 10th in the SEC. But Javier Arenas is one of the best return men in college football and gives the Crimson Tide the same threat at James. One of Alabama’s best special teams players, linebacker Cory Reamer, has a pulled hamstring, which will limit how many specials teams units he plays on in this game. And if it comes down to the kickers, Alabama’s Leigh Tiffin and Florida’s Caleb Sturgis both have strong legs. With this game being played indoors and both defenses being so strong, don’t be surprised if Tiffin and Sturgis both get shots at long field goals.
4. Chasing history: Both teams will be chasing history Saturday. Alabama is the only team in the league to have won an SEC title in every decade since the league was formed in 1933. This is the Crimson Tide’s last chance to keep that streak alive. They’ve also gone nine years without an SEC title, which is the longest drought in school history. Florida is seeking to win back-to-back SEC titles for the first time since Tennessee did it in 1997 and 1998. And by winning, the Gators would get a chance in the BCS National Championship Game to do something that hasn’t been done in 60 years: win three undisputed national titles in a span of four years. Notre Dame won in 1946, 1947 and 1949. The Gators are also vying to finish a season unbeaten for the first time in school history.
5. Saban’s second chance: Only once since he arrived in the SEC from Michigan State has Nick Saban lost back-to-back games to the same team. As fate would have it, those two losses were to Florida in 2000 and 2001, Saban’s first two seasons at LSU and when Steve Spurrier was coaching the Gators. In other words, Saban is pretty good in rematches. He’s 13-1 during his stints at LSU and Alabama in return games against teams. One of the reasons is that he never rests. He’s always looking for ways to get better, how to tweak things, new ways to pressure the quarterback and new ways to attack a certain offense. Alabama’s proud defense gave up a staggering 129 yards and two long touchdown drives in the fourth quarter of last season’s 31-20 loss to Florida in the SEC championship game. The Crimson Tide’s defense couldn’t get off the field, as the Gators kept the ball for nearly 12 minutes in that final quarter. We’ll see what answers Saban has for Tebow and Co. the second time around. Think he's looked at much tape from the fourth quarter of that game last year?