Situation Room: Are you ready for some football?
Tide-Gators, Tigers-Sooners clash with title implications on the line
By Rece Davis
Conference championship games were initially the product of a loophole in the rules.
If a conference had 12 teams, it could play a title game. The SEC's first game, the trendsetter in 1992, carried national-title implications.
Alabama was working on an undefeated season and needed a late pick six from Antonio Langham to hold off Florida. As much drama as there was in Legion Field that frigid Saturday afternoon, it will be dwarfed by what unfolds in the chaotic climate-controlled den that will be the Georgia Dome on Saturday.
For the first time, a conference title game isn't about a behemoth and a spoiler. Are you among the throng screaming for a playoff? This is what one would look like.
Marvin Gentry-US Presswire
Alabama hopes Javier Arenas' return skills can change the tempo of the SEC championship game.
Alabama and Florida meet for the sixth time in an SEC championship game. It's the fourth time national-title implications have been involved.
It's the first time both
teams have a win-and-you're-in scenario. It's the first time any conference title game has matched two teams ranked in the top five of the BCS or two teams ranked in the AP top 4.
All that and the reigning Heisman winner.
What do the kids say now? Off the hook? Off the chains? They don't say any of that any more? They never said those things? How about this: It's a really big deal. Let's be honest. All other games could get third-degree burns from the glare radiating from this one.
The Gators are about a 10-point favorite. A couple of weeks ago the sentiment in some quarters seemed to be that Alabama should petition the SEC to allow them to skip the game and save itself the embarrassment.
As the game draws closer, some of those observers seem to have developed a greater appreciation for Alabama's subtle-as-a-sledgehammer-across-the-bridge-of-the-nose style.
This game is about tempo. A fast-paced, quick-scoring game obviously favors Florida. A slugfest full of body blows favors the Tide. Florida has the chops to win that way too, but would prefer an open game which emphasizes its blazing-fast playmakers. The No. 1 way the Gators can establish their desired tempo is in the kicking game.
Florida has been unbelievable on special teams. Not only do the Gators have dynamic return man Brandon James
, they might be even more dangerous blocking kicks (eight on the season).
Next to the health and effectiveness of Percy Harvin
, I think special-teams play will be the most important factor in the game. Everyone knows the Gators' offense is potent. Getting short fields through the kicking game just revs up the Gators' offense, enhances the quick-strike points capability which would force Alabama to alter its game plan and play a little faster than it wants.
Florida has scored seven non-offensive touchdowns, second-most in America behind
Alabama. Javier Arenas is just as dangerous as James as a punt returner. Alabama has had a few blocks, too.
Nothing seems to swing momentum as violently in a big game like making a play on special teams. It'll be fun to see how aggressive the two teams are on special teams, too. As important as it is to make those big plays, not letting the other guy do it will be crucial.
No defense is better on third down than Alabama. No defense has allowed fewer rushing touchdowns (three) than Alabama. Florida will test that in every way.
Alabama's offense might not be as flashy, but it has been effective. Among SEC teams, the Crimson Tide is second only to the Gators in scoring (32 ppg to 46 ppg).
Can Mizzou add to Big 12 championship upset lore?
Alabama and Florida is the headliner, but the other acts are compelling, too. There is nothing in the world about Missouri's play on defense that would make you believe
it has a prayer of stopping Oklahoma.
Paul Jasienski/Getty Images
Chase Daniel will put up some points, but can the Mizzou D stop the Sooners?
The Sooners beat Chase Daniel
and company twice last season and seem plenty equipped to do it again, but there is this: Since the Big 12 title game started in 1996, AP top 3 teams are only 5-5. No conference title game has wreaked more havoc with national championship-game contenders than the Big 12's match. Maybe Texas actually did
catch a break. The Horns are in the clubhouse.
But it would take more than a double bogey for Oklahoma to cough up this lead on the course. It might take a full-scale "Tin Cup," keep-hitting-the-ball-into-the-drink meltdown. With his 46 touchdown passes, Sam Bradford
keeps it on the fairway with razor-sharp precision. Standing between Bradford and his continued assault on the record books: the nation's 116th-ranked pass defense.
Missouri will score plenty, but it's pretty hard to fathom the Tigers mounting enough resistance to add their chapter to Big 12 title game upset lore.
And out West
I'm looking forward to seeing USC and UCLA in the home uniforms. It's a nod to the old days. The idea was that the teams shared L.A. so they were both at home, especially when the two teams shared the Coliseum.
Rick Neuheisel is a good sport. The Bruins coach is taking a timeout early to even out the one the Trojans will be assessed for not wearing the road whites.
Then again, why would Neuheisel want to stop the clock? Asking to play with a running clock might be the way to go for the Bruins.
McShay: Speed kills for Gators
By Todd McShay
The return to health of WR/RB/RS Percy Harvin and the emergence of freshman speedsters Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey have been the reasons most commonly given for Florida's offensive breakout over the past two months, and both make sense.
However, the ways in which head coach Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Dan Mullen have gone about incorporating those three playmakers have been overlooked by most.
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Jeff Demps adds another dimension to Florida's potent offensive attack.
Meyer and his staff have assembled the fastest offensive roster -- perhaps the fastest overall roster -- in college football today, and their philosophy is simple: to isolate their faster athletes against the opponent's slower athletes in the biggest possible amount of space.
That philosophy has never changed during Meyer's tenure in Gainesville. The Gators are simply putting a different spin on it this season. Because this year's group has greater depth at running back than it does at wide receiver, Meyer and Mullen are focusing more on generating those personnel mismatches on the ground.
Clearly, the epiphany came during a 21-point, fourth-quarter explosion at Arkansas, just a week after an embarrassing home loss to Ole Miss. That 15-minute stretch against the Razorbacks featured a 75-yard touchdown run by Rainey and a 48-yard scoring scamper by Demps. Rainey and Demps each finished with 103 rushing yards, the first time since 1997 the Gators have had two 100-yard rushers in same game.
They haven't looked back since.
Todd McShay is the director of college football scouting for Scouts Inc. He has been evaluating prospects for the NFL draft since 1998.