By Dave Thomas
It will be a reunion of sorts in Atlanta this Saturday as the second-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide make its last push for a spot in the college football playoffs. On the other side of the ball, the 18th ranked Florida Gators look to spoil the party for the SEC West Division champs, staking their claim as to why they deserve a spot in the playoffs.
For anyone who has followed the SEC over the last couple of decades, Alabama (11-1) and Florida (10-2) are certainly not strangers to one another.
The two teams have met for the SEC crown a number of times, with Florida holding a slight edge in that portion of the series. Meanwhile, ‘Bama has been dominant in recent years when the two meet up, with the Tide having won four straight. With that most recent win in 2014, the Crimson Tide pushed the all-time series lead over Florida to 24-14.
Can Florida Pull The Upset?
So, what does Florida (who last won the SEC in 2008 en route to the national title) have to do in order to not only win the game, but also stay competitive as a 17-point underdog?
For starters, stopping Alabama running back Derrick Henry (school-record 46 carries, 271 yards rushing vs. Auburn in the Iron Bowl last Saturday) is all but impossible. If the Gators are somehow able to slow down the man among boys, then it will be up to ‘Bama quarterback Jake Coker (formerly played at UF’s rival Florida State) to distribute the ball downfield to Calvin Ridley and the Tide’s other receivers.
Henry, who has positioned himself as one of the favorites to capture the Heisman Trophy later this month, has shown no signs of tiring in games, this despite having to all but carry the workload himself since the injury to Kenyan Drake (broken arm versus Mississippi State last month). Drake, who is Alabama’s number two running back, could be available for the game, though it might simply be as a decoy.
‘Bama Defense Second To None
On the defensive side of the ball, ‘Bama has been nothing short of dominant in recent weeks.
Having what is arguably the best defensive line in the country, the Tide has been even more devastating in its last four games, allowing a mere 41 points total against LSU, Mississippi State, Charleston Southern and Auburn.
Florida, which lost its most recent game (27-2 loss to in-state rival Florida State), will need to score early and keep its fans in the game. If ‘Bama gets out to an early lead and is able to use Henry to manage the clock, it could be lights out early in Gator Country.
While the playoff scenario is a given should Alabama win this Saturday, things could get a little murky if Florida leaves Atlanta with the SEC crown.
As of now, Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma and Iowa are the top four teams, though several other schools on the outside looking in could very well move up should ‘Bama or the other two (Clemson, Iowa) falter this weekend in their respective conference title games.