Atlanta, GA (Sports Network) - The showdown that college football fans have anticipated for weeks will finally take place at the Georgia Dome on Saturday afternoon, as the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide will take on the second- ranked Florida Gators for the SEC Championship and a trip to the national title game.
Alabama is 12-0 for the first time in school history, and the team is fresh off a 36-0 thrashing of rival Auburn in the annual Iron Bowl. That shutout was the first by the Tide over the Tigers since 1992, and the 36-point margin of victory was the Iron Bowl's largest since 'Bama beat Auburn in 1962 by a 38-0 final. Nick Saban needed only two years to restore the program to national powerhouse status, and he hopes to win a second national title, a feat that he accomplished for the first time as the leader of the LSU program in 2003.
"We are proud of our team, our players, and our coaching staff who have done a phenomenal job throughout the season, and we have one more challenge left against a great opponent," said Saban after the win over Auburn.
While the Crimson Tide has won the SEC a staggering total of 21 times, the last title came back in 1999.
Florida is just two years removed from a national title, and Urban Meyer has built a model program in Gainesville. The Gators are 11-1 overall and have posted eight consecutive victories by 28 or more points since suffering their lone loss to Ole Miss back in late September. Last weekend, the team cruised past Florida State in a 45-15 final in Tallahassee. Florida is aiming for its eighth conference championship this weekend.
While Alabama owns a 21-13 series advantage over Florida, the Gators won the most recent meeting in a 28-13 final in 2006.
It is true that Alabama isn't nearly as explosive offensively as Florida or some of the other top teams in the nation. The Crimson Tide are averaging an unspectacular 370.8 total ypg, but they are scoring 32.1 ppg and possess a tremendous ground attack. To be specific, Alabama is generating 201.5 rushing ypg on an average of 4.8 yards per attempt, and 30 of the team's 40 offensive touchdowns have come on the ground.
Rather than rely on the talents of just one tailback, 'Bama has two skilled runners in the fold. Glenn Coffee has been tremendous, racking up 1,235 yards and nine scores while averaging 6.2 ypc. As for Mark Ingram, he has found the end zone 11 times as a runner to go along with 681 yards.
While quarterback John Parker Wilson isn't asked to carry the offense with his arm, the veteran is more than capable of making plays. He has completed 58.6 percent of his passes for 1,909 yards and nine touchdowns against only five interceptions. He doesn't make many mistakes with the football, knowing that an outstanding running attack coupled with strong defense and special teams are the ingredients to success.
Against Auburn last week, Ingram ran for two touchdowns, and Coffe added a 41- yard scoring scamper. The Tide posted 412 total yards, 234 of which came via the ground attack, and Wilson was steady as usual under center.
Opponents are only scoring 11.5 ppg against Alabama, which is holding foes to 248.5 total yards. The Crimson Tide have been nearly impossible to run against with any measure of success, as they are yielding a miniscule 73.6 rushing ypg on 2.7 ypc. The defensive unit has 23 sacks to its credit to go along with the team's total of 24 takeaways. Also worthy of mention is the fact that opponents are only making good on 25 percent of their third-down conversion attempts against Alabama.
One player to watch is Rolando McClain, as he has registered 82 total tackles, including 11 for loss. Rashad Johnson, who has made 73 total stops, has five interceptions to his credit.
It is hard to imagine the defense playing any better than it did in the shutout victory over Auburn. Alabama allowed only 170 total yards, including 57 rushing yards on 30 attempts. The Tigers were able to complete just 9-of-23 passes and lost three fumbles to Alabama. It needs to be pointed out, however, that Auburn has struggled offensively all season, and the 'Bama defense will face a much stiffer test this weekend against Florida's high-octane offense.
Asked to look ahead to Saturday's clash with the Gators, Johnson said, "We are going to approach it like any other game. They have a really fast offense and a stifling defense so we are going to have to work to get to where we want to be."
Fans will finally get to see just how good the Gator offense really is, as the unit will collide with a premier defense this weekend. Florida is racking up 46.1 ppg thanks to a balanced offense that averages over 200 yards both rushing and receiving. The ground attack accounts for 6.2 yards per rush attempt, while the passing game is generating 14.2 yards per completion.
At the helm of the UF offense is Tim Tebow, who won the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore last season. Tebow's numbers aren't as gaudy as they were a year ago, but it can be argued that he has been asked to do less because of an increase in viable offensive weapons. The versatile signal caller has completed 65 percent of his passes for 2,299 yards and 25 touchdowns against only two interceptions. As a runner, he has scored 12 more touchdowns.
The most exciting player for the Gator offense is the versatile Percy Harvin, who has 538 yards and nine touchdowns as a runner and 35 catches for 595 yards and seven scores as a receiver. Keep an eye on freshmen Jeffery Demps and Chris Rainey, a pair of explosive tailbacks who have combined for nearly 1,200 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.
Florida rolled up 502 total yards against Florida State last weekend, 317 of which were rushing yards. Demps, Tebow and Hardin all had rushing scores, while Rainey led the team with 97 yards on just eight carries. Harvin hurt his ankle in the contest, however, and it remains to be seen if he will be at full speed against Alabama. As a passer, Tebow finished with three scoring strikes.
"They score so many points so fast that everybody gets out of their game plan," said legendary Florida State coach Bobby Bowden of the Gators.
Sure, the offense garners most of the headlines for coach Meyer's club, but the defensive unit has been spectacular as well. The Gators are yielding only 12.2 ppg and 275.7 total ypg thanks to tremendous speed at every position. They are limiting opponents to 102.8 rushing ypg on 3.3 ypc, and they have intercepted 23 passes to date. The 32 total takeaways have certainly played a part in Florida's outstanding offensive output, as Tebow and company have been set up with tremendous field position often. Foes are making good on 31 percent of their third-down conversion attempt against the Gators, who have turned opponents away scoreless on 10 trips to the red zone.
Brandon Spikes continues to lead the team with 80 total tackles, and Carlos Dunlap is tops with nine sacks. Spikes has also intercepted four passes, and Ahmad Black has six picks.
The Gators came up with four takeaways against Florida State last weekend, including three interceptions, and the defense held the Seminoles to 3-of-14 success on third-down conversion attempts. FSU finished with just 242 total yards.
No team has been more impressive over the last two months than Florida, which has looked completely invincible.
"I've been saying for about six or seven weeks now, the professionalism and the way our guys handle themselves has been real good," says Meyer.
12/03 12:03:40 ET