Alabama and Florida will add another chapter to their SEC championship game history on Saturday, but few people are expecting a battle on the level of their 1990s and 2000s classics.
Las Vegas doesn’t think it will be close. Florida seems happy just to be in Atlanta. Can the Gators shock the country and shake up the Playoff picture? Here’s what you need to know before kickoff:
No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide (11-1) vs. No. 18 Florida Gators (10-2)
Kickoff: Sat., Dec. 5, 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS)
Weather: Georgia Dome
Line: Alabama -17.5
By the numbers
94 – Rushing yards Alabama running back Derrick Henry needs to break the SEC’s single-season record. Georgia’s Herschel Walker (1,891 in 1981) is currently in the No. 1 spot.
257 – Florida’s average offensive output in its past two games against Florida State and Florida Atlantic. Henry ran for 271 by himself against Auburn last Saturday.
3 – Kickers in the country who are perfect on multiple field goal attempts from 50-plus. Alabama’s Adam Griffith (2-for-2) is one of them, and has made 19 of his past 22 attempts from all distances.
Storylines to watch
Special teams letdowns
Both defenses are elite, and Florida’s offense has been anemic. If the Gators want to stay in the game, they’ll either need to capitalize on Alabama turnovers (as Ole Miss did in September) or come up with a couple huge special teams plays.
Those will be tough to come by against Alabama, which has not allowed a kick or punt return touchdown this season, and has not had a single extra point or field goal blocked.
Freshman wideout Antonio Callaway has been the Gators’ only real source of return magic in 2015. He’s averaging 14.04 yards per punt runback and scored from 72 yards out against LSU in October.
Jake Coker vs. Treon Harris
Coker has played much better football than Harris this year, but he’s prone to making the same dumb mistakes that have plagued the Florida signal-caller.
The question is not, “Will Coker make a couple bad throws?” The question is, “Will Florida make him pay?”
If the Gators can’t get at least one interception that dramatically changes field position, they are not going to be able to beat Alabama.
On the other side of the ball, Harris has been mostly awful, but the sophomore has also shown flashes of brilliance after Will Grier’s suspended. Harris’ start at LSU — 17-of-32 for 271 yards and a pair of touchdowns — is Exhibit A in the case for his competency.
He can make big plays; he just hasn’t made them in awhile. Can that change Saturday?
Henry vs. the Florida front
The Heisman favorite has annihilated the past six teams he’s faced, but the Gators will not be an easy matchup.
Florida is allowing just 111.3 rushing yards per game (seventh in the country) and 15.5 points per game (fifth in the country).
Something will need to give because Henry has passed that yardage mark eight times in 2015 and scored an average of 11 points per game himself. He needs one more decent performance to solidify the Crimson Tide’s second Heisman Trophy. But Florida is not the ideal opponent to pad stats against.
Prediction: Alabama 31, Florida 17
Alabama is probably the best team in the country. Florida is in the midst of a freefall. A Gators win would not be a “miracle,” per se, but they might need something similar to stick around.