This is It

December 5, 2008

We’ve been waiting for this matchup since the night of November 8. That was the day when both Alabama and Florida clinched their divisions to lock in the title game matchup at the earliest point in a season ever.

People kind of knew it was coming for longer than that though, because you could see LSU’s decline begin with the losses to Florida and Georgia in October and Florida’s big win over Georgia on November 1.

I’m not going to quote a bunch of stats now because most people have already done that and because most of them are in Florida’s favor anyway. Of all the standard statistical categories, Florida is higher ranked in about 75% of them. Alabama partisans would say something along the lines of the Gators not being tested by a team of Bama’s caliber, while Florida fans would probably counter with the fact that Florida’s schedule strength is much stronger.

Because of those facts, folks picking Alabama have cited qualitative attributes of the team. They point out things like Alabama being a tough team that will not back down. Many regardless of their choice have perpetuated the storyline of the contest being about Alabama’s power versus Florida’s finesse and speed.

I have news: both teams are powerful, and both teams are fast. Alabama might hold a slight edge in power and Florida an edge in speed, but this is not a game of elephants versus gazelles. Florida’s fast backs often run through gaping holes between the tackles, and the defense has been known to deliver some punishment.

Just ask Knowshon. It’s a powerful defense.

It is true that Florida doesn’t run straight up the middle as often as the Tide does, and sometimes they employ misdirection. But since when does trying to gain an advantage by fooling an opponent indicate you’re not tough? Will it mean that Alabama has gone soft when they run a play action pass or a disguised blitz?

Of course not, and the fact that the offensive line and Glen Coffee like the power running game doesn’t mean that other players, or even Coffee himself, aren’t fast. Terrence Cody’s monster push up the middle doesn’t mean that guys like Rashad Johnson run around like they have cement shoes.

I suppose power and speed are the marketing messages that the two coaches like to put out, especially with Urban Meyer’s well known desire to have the nation’s fastest team, but it’s a lazy oversimplification. Those who keep talking about pace also apparently aren’t familiar with the two teams either because neither of them run their offenses in a big hurry. Alabama is usually deliberate as we all know, and Florida is on the edge of getting a delay of game more often than not.

I’m not going to tell you this game comes down to one thing, because both teams do everything well. It’s going to come down to execution in every phase of the game. I don’t think one team will lead the whole game, nor do I think either will win by more than 14 points because they are so close.

If Alabama wins, you could point to the recent rash of injuries to Florida and the motivational situation of Alabama being undefeated yet a big underdog as ways you could have seen it coming. If Florida wins, you can point to their large run of success and slight edge in speed, talent, and depth as ways you could have seen it coming. We will see a lot on the field that will decide the game too, as it’s not played over the course of a few weeks but over the course of a few hours.

I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve. Tonight’s MAC Championship Game is like getting to open a candy cane the night before all the real presents appear under the tree. It’s something, but it pales in comparison.

I really do feel that excited. I’ve been trying everything I can to make tonight go faster, from burying myself in planning for my honeymoon next July to Mario Kart Wii. It has still felt like an eternity, though not as long as tomorrow before 4:00 will feel. GameDay will help, but between noon and kickoff will be nigh unbearable.

I have gone back and forth on this game all week. As it has been getting closer though, I have felt better about it even as the announcements of Patchan and Antwine being out for the year surfaced, no announcements of any kind about Harvin have surfaced, and the news of Rainey’s groin injury broke. There’s a special feel to this team that I haven’t felt about a Florida team in a long time. For comparison, I didn’t believe the 2006 team could win a national title until after the win over Arkansas.

I have believed this team could do it since the win over LSU. We have since found out LSU isn’t as good as we thought, but it was a big statement game. They destroyed Georgia by a larger margin than I thought possible. They put Kentucky and Vanderbilt away in basically one quarter’s worth of work in each game. They made South Carolina’s tough defense look like a Sun Belt Conference defense.

Since the start of October they have played like a Titan. No one has come close, while Alabama has struggled at times. It is not a fluke that Florida won those game by such large margins. No luck was involved. It was the Gators executing at an unbelievably high level.

No matter what happens from here on out, this will be the lasting image of the season. Two plays after FSU fans cheered Percy Harvin’s injury, Tebow pushed his own linemen and the then-best defensive line at tackles for loss in the country four yards into the endzone from four yards out. Thanks to the rain and paint, he came out looking like a bloodstained gladiator, and he was asking for more.

This man is the number one reason why I feel good about this game. Tebow is as much a force of nature as there is in the college game today. He was not the reason the Gators lost four games last season, and the reason they did has improved by leaps and bounds.

I believe Tebow will find a way to win. I believe he won’t let his team lose. I know Alabama fans have the same special feelings and beliefs about their team and players, but they don’t have Tebow. Florida may not have been hit in the mouth in the way Alabama will hit them, but Alabama hasn’t been hit this year in the way that Florida will hit them.

Tebow will get hit and get up asking for more. He will relish the contact as he so often does. He will not get rattled; he will instead look for someone else to go hit to the horror of the Florida coaching staff.

As he has done each of the past eight games, he will not only do things on his own but he will get the ball in the hands of his playmakers at the right times. He won’t try to do it all himself, but rather be the straw that stirs the drink. And this is one powerful drink.

Many things in this game will even out, but Alabama cannot even out Tebow. Florida will win and go play in the BCS title game. If you press me for a score, I’ll pick the numerical score I produced earlier this week of 35-21.

Whatever happens though, this is the most remarkable team I have ever seen in orange and blue. They have dominated their opponents through this part of the schedule in ways that not even the 1996 team did. It has been a blast to follow them, and I can’t wait for tomorrow.


A Debate with a Bama Blogger

December 5, 2008

Cocknfire over at Team Speed Kills organized a debate for this weekend’s game with Todd from Roll Bama Roll, SBN’s Alabama blog. It is up over there and contains a lot of what I would write in a preview.

Enjoy.


Weekend Rooting Guide

December 5, 2008

The MAC Championship Game, ACC Championship Game, and Pitt-UConn all don’t mean anything to Gator fans unless you’ve got a secondary rooting interest in one of those contests. For instance, I’ll be rooting for Virginia Tech over Boston College because I have some Hokie friends here in Charlotte, but I’ve never even met a BC fan.

Some of the other games of the day though can affect the Gators.

Root for UCLA over USC. Not only did they kindly beat USC to pave the way for the 2006 national title team, but their basketball team twice rolled over for the Gators in the Final Four. Nice fellas, those Bruins.

Also: there are plenty of people with votes who just plain like USC. It is theoretically possible that some might rank the Trojans over the Gators. There would be no reason for them to do that if Florida has one loss and USC has two. With as close as the BCS race will end up, every point counts.

Root for Missouri over Oklahoma. The only possible situation where a 12-1 Florida team gets shut out of the national title game is a Texas-OU rematch. If the Sooners go down, that possibility evaporates instantly.

Also: I have come to the realization since Monday that it probably would be a good for Oklahoma to win close rather than win a massive blowout. A close Sooner win means more first place votes go to Florida in the human polls, and UF needs as many as it can get to make it comfortable. Every first place vote for Oklahoma is a vote for Texas too, given the situation in the computer polls.

Root for Hawai’i over Cincinnati. Remember Hawai’i? That opponent from waaaaay back in August? They have one more game, and it’s a home contest versus the Big East champions. Cincy gets a 13th game because there is an NCAA rule that says you can get an extra regular season game if it is in the islands. It’s designed to take away the excuse of losing a home game from any non-WAC team that refuses to play out there.

Both teams have already secured their bowl bids, so there isn’t much on the line. However, Florida played Hawai’i and Oklahoma played Cincinnati. This is the only game of the weekend that can directly affect the strength of schedule for any of the top three teams. Remember, every point counts.

I know that Cincinnati won 10 games and Florida embarrassed Hawai’i, but the Warriors are a completely different team at home. They also play worse the farther east they go, so it’s almost impossible for them to have played worse than they did in Gainesville (unless they played in Newfoundland or Europe or something). It’s a doable upset for the home guys, so let’s go Warriors.


Final SEC Power Poll Released

December 5, 2008

Here it is, the final SEC Power Poll of the season. There won’t be one next week because there’s only one game this weekend. Full poll with comments here.


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