IT IS ALMOST UPON US.
I know I keep hammering this 'game of the decade' stuff, but I'm so friggin' excited for this game that I'm bound to verge on the hyperbolic. Still, though, I don't think it's too inaccurate. That title does need the qualifiers I used in today's post title- regular season, college football.
If we're talking about the college football game of the decade, period, no qualifier, it'd have to be the 2006 Rose Bowl title game between Texas and USC. (Crap, one other qualifier: we're talking about the match-up here, not how the game ended...in that case, the game of the decade would obviously be Oklahoma-Boise St.) Both teams came in undefeated, both had amazing star power, and both teams were well respected (as opposed to a few years I could mention when crappy undefeated big 10 schools ruined the title game just by showing up). It lived up to its billing, and you'd have to expect that Saturday's SEC Championship between Florida and Alabama will do the same.
So how's it going to play out? Last year when these clubs met in a similar situation (Florida had lost one close game to Mississippi State, but still had a chance to make the title game), the Gators came out on top 31-20. But at the end of the third quarter, it was 20-17 Bama, so this was not a blowout or a comfortable win by any means. But Florida was the better team, and they finished the job in the fourth.
Time for a breakdown.
This year, Alabama's defense is stellar. After 12 wins, they've allowed more than twenty points just three times, including last week's 26-21 win over Auburn. They've conceded 10 points or fewer in 7 of those games. But Florida has been even better, albeit marginally, giving up 20 points just once and holding opponents to 10 or fewer on 7 occasions. Then again, the SEC East, which Florida won, is a lot less competitive than Bama's stomping grounds out west. All things considered, the D is a draw.
A clear advantage to Florida here. Alabama has played in four "close" games, including a near-loss to Tennessee that was saved by two blocked field goals. In all but one case (a 34-24 season-opening win over Virginia Tech), their offense couldn't put the other team away. McElroy, their QB, is in his first year as a starter, and although he's been extremely competent and avoided the big mistakes, he hasn't been dominant or spectacular. Julius Jones, their star receiver, seems to unleash one big play a game, but his numbers are well down from last year; he's only gone over 100 yards once (3 times in 2008), and has accumulated just 545 receiving yards (924 in '08). Mark Ingram has been the real star, grinding out 1,429 yards from the tailback spot.
Meanwhile, the Florida blitzkrieg has been in full effect. With the Most High Tebow at the helm, they've mostly trounced the competition, culminating in last week's 37-10 destruction of a hapless Florida State team. They've got everything; a great line, great passer (who's also a great runner), great running backs, amazing receivers, the whole nine yards. There's just one small thing...take a look at their point production against the 3 SEC West teams on their list of victims (LSU, Arkansas, Mississippi State): 13, 23, 29. Throw in a 23 against Tennessee and a 24 against South Carolina, and it's a far cry from the gaudy numbers against the dregs of the schedule. So Tebow's Crusaders can be held in check. Still, recent momentum and overall production favor Florida.
Alabama blocks field goals once in a while, and they have Javier Arenas, aka Dr. Excitement, returning kicks. I have no idea what Florida's special teams are like. Don't care. Edge to BAMA.
As I said before, Florida has sligntly more momentum. Last week, Auburn held Mark Ingram in check and nearly upset the Tide, while Florida rolled over the Seminoles. But both teams are 12-0, so momentum really shouldn't be a huge issue. Alabama may have more experience in close games this year, but it's not like Tebow and company will be cowed by a tense situation; they won this game last year, and they've won two of the last three national titles. The coaches are equally great; in a world of buffoons, don't expect any crucial errors from Nick Saban or Urban Meyer. I call the 'intangibles' category a TOSS-UP.
What else can I say? Judging by the early lines, Florida will probably end up favored by 5-6 points. Personally, I don't think they'll cover, but I do think they might win.
Bucking the current, I'm going to make two predictions.
1) Alabama's defense holds strong all game, and the Tide get a special teams touchdown, one offensive TD, and a couple field goals to take a late 20-14 lead. Tebow leads a late drive, and with some kind of gimmicky play (a jump pass, perhaps, or an Urban Meyer trickster special), they score for a 21-20 win.
2) Same scenario, but the go-ahead Gator touchdown comes with two or three minutes left on the clock. Alabama drives, gets in field goal range, and their excellent kicker Leigh Tiffin nails one in the 40-yard range for a 23-21 Crimson Tide win.
Cowardly double prediction? Perhaps. Both horribly wrong? A possibility. Made with a confused mangling of available information, infused with no visible iota of real knowledge?
I am a man of many shoes.
4pm Saturday, dudes and dudettes. This will be awesome.