The undefeated Tide are a 24-point favorite over the three-loss Gators in Atlanta. Florida is limping into the game, literally and figuratively, with tons of injuries to key players and coming off of a 31-13 loss to rival Florida State in the regular season finale. Alabama, which has a few injuries of its own, thumped Auburn in the Iron Bowl a week ago in a 30-12 final and cruises into Atlanta as the only undefeated Power Five team in the land.
This game isn't expected to be close, but Florida will look to shock the world with strong defensive play and hope that an inconsistent offense finds life against the nation's top defense.
Alabama: The amazing thing about the Tide this season is that, even if they lose this game, they're almost assuredly going to make the College Football Playoff. That's how dominant Alabama has been this season and how far ahead the Tide are of everyone else. This game is going to be a battle of a very good (but banged up) defense and an all-time great defense.
You can guess which one is Alabama. The "soft spot" in Alabama's defense is in the secondary, where the Tide will challenge opponents in single coverage to beat them as there are opportunities to go over the top. Now, by opportunities, I'm talking about a receiver having a step on a corner and the ball having to be placed perfectly over the top. Not many college quarterbacks are able to do that regularly and that's why only Ole Miss and Chad Kelly's rocket arm have put up points on them.
Against a quarterback like Austin Appleby, who does not throw the best deep ball, you can expect the Tide to load the box, sit on short routes and force him to consistently put it in the bucket over the top. This has been their gameplan most of the season, and it's quite successful. Alabama is 11th in pass defense, allowing just over 178 yards through the air per game, and are fourth in yards per attempt allowed at 5.7.
As for running it on Alabama, that just doesn't happen. The Tide have allowed two teams to go over 100 yards this season, none over 114, and allow an average of 2.2 yards per carry. Basically, if the Tide's defense shows up and plays how it has all season, it's hard to see where offensive touchdowns come from for the Gators.
Florida: Alright, so you just read all of that and now you're trying to figure out how Florida can move the ball on Alabama. That's a question 12 teams have asked this season and only one has found the right answer (and they still lost). The Gators have to turn Appleby loose if they want to have a chance.
There's an inherent danger to doing that -- the danger being the Tide running up the score by way of pick-sixes -- but we've seen that even a really good defense just can't keep up with Alabama's for 60 minutes (see: LSU). So, Florida has to consistently try to find connections over the top and pop the Tide for a few big plays to have a chance. It won't be efficient, but to be honest, neither would a run-heavy diet.
We've seen teams get big plays over the top against Alabama, but only Ole Miss consistently popped the top on the Tide. As a 24-point underdog, there's no reason to play scared in this game -- Florida is already behind Auburn in the rankings so a close loss likely does nothing for Sugar Bowl hopes -- so the Gators might as well try the one game plan that has had success against this Alabama defense.
Even after everything I just said, I cannot allow myself to lay 24 points in an SEC Championship Game. Florida is the sharp side of this line with 75 percent of money at William Hill sports books on the Gators compared to just 54 percent of the tickets.
I think the Gators will find one big play over the top to wideout Antonio Callaway that leads to points and tack on another field goal or two somewhere along the way thanks to the big leg of Eddy Pineiro and sneak in a cover. Florida also hasn't attempted a fake of any kind this season, so perhaps coach Jim McElwain will factor something into the gameplan after closing practice this week. It won't be close or feel especially competitive, but the Gators defense can hold its own for a bit in a three-touchdown Alabama win and an ever so tight Florida cover. Pick: Florida +24