It’s almost championship weekend, and we’re very close to crowning an SEC champion.
No. 2 Alabama faces No. 18 Florida in the hopes of securing his fourth SEC championship under coach Nick Saban.
The Tide are heavy favorites at 17 1/2, according to Vegas Insiders, which makes Florida the biggest underdog in an SEC title game since the Gators were favored by 24 against Arkansas in 1995.
But perhaps we shouldn’t anoint Alabama the SEC champs just yet.
Here are three reasons why Florida could pull off the upset:
It’s hard not to find a defensive statistic in which Florida isn’t among the national leaders.
The Gators rank No. 5 in both scoring defense and total defense, nationally. They rank No. 7 against the rush (111.3 yards per game) and No. 9 against the pass (172.3 yards per game).
Florida, which ranks in the top 10 defensively against both the run and the pass, has allowed 300 yards of offense just five times this season and only once since Halloween.
Florida has allowed nine rushing touchdowns on the season, which is tied for fourth-fewest in the nation. Additionally, the defense has amassed 14 interceptions, including seven over the last five games (ninth nationally).
If the Gators can take away Derrick Henry and the Alabama running game, they’ll be putting their defense in a prime position to win.
Alabama quarterback Jake Coker has managed the offense well. But as evident in the Tide’s only loss to Ole Miss back in September, when the offense leans on Coker he’s susceptible to turnovers.
Coker has attempted 30 passes or more only twice since — against Louisiana-Monroe and Arkansas. He’s thrown eight interceptions on the season, five of which have come when he’s attempted 30 or more passes.
A new wrinkle in the Gators offense?
There’s no denying that the Florida offense has been abysmal over the past month or so. It was all-too-apparent last Saturday when the Gators mustered two points in a lopsided loss at the hands of rival Florida State, the team’s worst performance in The Swamp since being shutout 16-0 to Auburn back in 1988.
So, after a historically poor performance, the Gators have nowhere to go but up.
Coach Jim McElwain knows as much, and is seemingly looking to add some nuances to the offense to spark a unit that’s been lacking for some time with Treon Harris under center.
McElwain closed practice on Tuesday and Wednesday, perhaps feeding the idea that he’s toying with some things on the offensive side of the ball.
The Gators have topped 300 yards of offense three times in the six games since Harris took over for suspended quarterback Will Grier. The Gators put up 404 yards on a porous South Carolina defense, but that was the only occasion they totaled more than 300 in the past four outings.
So what helped Florida earn big wins against South Carolina and UGA and go score-for-score with LSU?
In each of those three games, Harris attempted at least 10 rushes. That forced defenses to key in on the mobile quarterback and opened alleys for Kelvin Taylor, who had 100-plus-yard days against both UGA and South Carolina.
In fact, in the five games Harris has double-digit rushing attempts, Taylor has four 100-yard games.
Perhaps McElwain is up to something. After all, he spent four seasons as Saban’s offensive coordinator. He has to have some sort of insight, which only opens the door to what we’ll see out of this Gators offense in the Georgia Dome.
Repeat? Not in the SEC
Alabama is attempting to win the SEC in back-to-back years, something that has not happened in this conference since Phillip Fulmer was patrolling the sidelines singing “Rocky Top.” The Vols won the SEC title in 1997 and again in 1998.
That 16-year streak is far and away the longest of any conference in the nation.
Sure, if there’s any team that can defy history it’s Alabama. But isn’t the old saying that history tends to repeat itself?