NCF Nation: SEC championship game

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Any chance we can get Alabama and Florida back on the same field again next week? I'd love to see a rematch, and I'm sure Alabama would love to have one. What a game, truly a classic with great plays on both sides and very few mistakes. I could pass out more than a handful of helmet stickers from Saturday's SEC Championship Game:

Tim Tebow, quarterback, Florida: Just when you thought you'd seen it all, Tebow writes another chapter in what's already been an amazing career. What didn't he do Saturday? He led Florida in rushing with 57 yards. He threw three touchdown passes. Every time the Gators needed a big play, he made it either by scrambling or finding an open receiver. He even got into the middle of some special teams meetings on the sideline.

Louis Murphy, receiver, Florida: Murphy wasn't the only one coming up big in Percy Harvin's absence. He had help from David Nelson, Riley Cooper, Carl Moore and Aaron Hernandez. Murphy led the Gators with four catches for 86 yards, provided great senior leadership and had the big blow in the Gators' clinching drive with his 33-yard catch. He's now caught a pass in 26 straight games.

Brandon Spikes, linebacker, Florida: He's to the Gators' defense what Tebow is to the offense. The defense feeds off of Spikes' emotion, and he's the one that set the tone in the fourth quarter by gathering up his teammates and telling them in no uncertain terms what he expected of them. Spikes finished with seven tackles and also had two quarterback hurries. But it was his impromptu talk with the defense right after the Gators went up 24-20 that might have been his greatest contribution.

Julio Jones, receiver, Alabama: By the letter of the law, helmet stickers are supposed to go to players on the winning team. But laws were made to be broken. Jones, only a freshman, was spectacular. He had five catches for 124 yards, and every time he caught it, you expected him to break a couple of tackles and score. He's that kind of player. "He can be the best player to probably ever come through Alabama as far as a receiver," said Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith, shaking his head admiringly.

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

The first No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in SEC history (according to the Associated Press poll) is upon us. Alabama and Florida have met five previous times in the SEC championship game, but the stakes have never been this high for both teams. The winner earns a spot in the BCS National Championship Game. Back in August, a lot of people were picking the Gators to be here. Nobody expected the Crimson Tide to be here. At least, nobody outside of the 205 area code. Both teams are still relatively young. Alabama only has nine scholarship seniors on its entire team, the fewest in the nation. Florida, meanwhile, is the only team in the SEC without a senior starter on defense. They've gotten here with contrasting styles -- the Gators with speed and the Crimson Tide with power. It ought to be a classic. Here are a few things to watch:

1. How's Percy? Through Thursday's practice, Florida running back/receiver Percy Harvin hadn't done anything on the field this week with rest of the team. He spent Thursday in the pool rehabilitating his sprained right ankle, but Florida coach Urban Meyer remains hopeful that Harvin will be able to play some in the game. How much remains to be seen. Meyer said he should know more Friday. Harvin is no stranger to playing through injuries. It seems like he's had something plaguing him from the time he arrived at Florida. But even when he's not 100 percent, Harvin is one of those guys that can turn a quick toss or a missed tackle into a touchdown. There's a reason he's scored a touchdown in 14 consecutive games, the longest such streak in the nation.

2. Scoring in different ways: Florida has scored seven non-offensive touchdowns this season -- five interception returns and two punt returns. There are only three teams nationally who've scored more, and one of those is Alabama. The Crimson Tide have eight non-offensive touchdowns this season, tying Kansas State and Boston College for the most among FBS schools. Alabama has four interception returns for touchdowns, two punt returns, one fumble return and one blocked punt. Both defenses are so good that a non-offensive touchdown could easily be the difference in this game. Both teams have big-time weapons in the return game, too. Between them, Alabama's Javier Arenas (five) and Florida's Brandon James (four) have returned nine career punts for touchdowns.

3. Rushing to success: There's an age-old adage in football that says if you can run the ball and stop the run, you're going to win a lot more games than you lose. That adage has been the cornerstone of Alabama's success this season. The Crimson Tide are second in the SEC in rushing offense (Florida is first), but they're also second nationally when it comes to stopping the run. They're allowing just 73.6 yards per game on the ground and have given up only three rushing touchdowns all season, the fewest in the country. The Tide's rushing defense will really be tested by the Gators, who've run for a staggering 1,612 more yards than their opponents this season. Ultimately, it's probably going to get down to whether Alabama can keep the ball away from Florida by running the ball and putting together long drives. Being able to get 4 and 5 yards consistently on first down will be especially important for the Tide.

4. Tebow time: One of the reasons Florida quarterback Tim Tebow has been so efficient this season is that he hasn't had to do as much as a year ago. The emergence of Chris Rainey and Jeffery Demps in the backfield has helped to take a lot of the pressure off of Tebow. Spreading the wealth around also means that it's a much healthier Tebow than it was at this time a year ago. He hasn't taken the pounding he did last season, which means he's going to be more willing than ever to lower his shoulder and try to pick up the tough yards. Having that dimension in the red zone and in short-yardage situations is invaluable. It's also a nice bonus for the Gators should Harvin not be as effective on his gimpy ankle. Tebow carried it a season-high 16 times last week against Florida State. He'll have at least that many carries in him Saturday if need be.

5. Spikes vs. Coffee: As good as Florida middle linebacker Brandon Spikes has been this season, he's been known to wander out of position at times. It's more a product of being too aggressive than anything else. He's a dynamic player capable of making game-turning plays. See his four interceptions against Top 25 teams. Still, look for Alabama to try and use some of that aggressiveness against him and do its best to get him out of the play. Alabama junior running back Glen Coffee hits the hole as hard as anyone, and he's the kind of runner who delivers the blow. His 1,235 rushing yards are the second most in the SEC behind only Georgia's Knowshon Moreno, who has 1,338. Coffee led all SEC rushers with a minimum of 100 attempts by averaging 6.2 yards per carry. He also showed the ability to break the long one. So look for Spikes and Coffee to come face-to-face more than a few times Saturday.

 
 Doug Benc/Getty Images/Nelson Chenault/US Presswire
 Florida coach Urban Meyer and Alabama's Nick Saban face off for the first time this Saturday in the SEC championship game.

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Alabama's Nick Saban and Florida's Urban Meyer have never faced each other as head coaches on the football field.

They don't really know each other except for a few brief conversations at the SEC spring meetings the last two years.

When Saban wants to jam, he cranks up the Eagles. Meyer's a Parrothead. He's partial to Jimmy Buffett.

Saban is a defensive innovator. Meyer is an offensive innovator.

Their two teams meet on Saturday in the SEC championship game in one of the most anticipated games in league history.

The fact that it's Saban vs. Meyer, two of the premier coaches in all of college football, is one of the reasons this is such a blockbuster deal.

It's the SEC's coaching version of Ali vs. Frazier, Magic vs. Bird and Nicklaus vs. Palmer.

And, really, they're a lot more alike than they are dissimilar.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

We're down to one game, THE game. For weeks, everybody has been weighing in on Alabama vs. Florida. Now it's finally here. Saturday's SEC championship game matchup will mark the first time in SEC history that teams have played each other when ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the Associated Press poll. Alabama is No. 1 and Florida No. 2. Yet, the Crimson Tide are a double-digit underdog in most quarters. This is my chance to make amends for what was a dreadful performance last weekend. In my defense, how did I know that the SEC was going to forget it was playing football and instead think it was playing basketball in three games against the ACC? Anyway, I was 5-3 last week, missing Georgia Tech's win over Georgia, Clemson's win over South Carolina and Arkansas' win over LSU. For the season, I'm now 72-23 (.758). Coaches with a lot better records are getting fired. So, yes, I've already checked my buyout. It's $50, payable in equal installments over the next 48 months. I need to get somebody at Auburn or Tennessee to draw up my contract the next time. On to Saturday's showdown:

Florida 34, Alabama 24: I'm not buying the notion that Florida is going to run away from Alabama and do to the Crimson Tide what the Gators have done to their last eight opponents. Florida has averaged 51.7 points during its eight-game winning streak and beat teams by an average margin of 39.6 points per game. Their closest game during that stretch was 28 points. Nowhere during that spree, though, did Florida face a team as physical, disciplined or talented in key spots as Alabama. The Crimson Tide have the offensive line to control the ball in this game. They have the defense to put the Gators in the kind of third-and-long situations they haven't faced this season. This won't be a runaway, but Florida will still win by double digits. Even with Percy Harvin gimpy, the Gators simply have too many offensive weapons, and their speed will only be magnified on the Georgia Dome's fast surface. They're better on special teams, and they also have Tim Tebow. Too bad these two teams can't play for the national championship.

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