8:00 PM ET, October 2, 2010
Bryant-Denny Stadium, TUSCALOOSA, AL
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) -- It's still comfortably warm most days in the Deep South, and already top-ranked Alabama and No. 7 Florida are set to tangle in a battle of the Southeastern Conference's reigning powers.
The timing and scene are different than usual, and so is the scenario. Rub out all the hype and anticipation, and you're left with a huge SEC game that won't really settle much of anything.
The loser of Saturday night's clash at Bryant-Denny Stadium presumably won't be knocked out of the national championship picture, and the winner earns no guarantees -- unlike the past two SEC championship games.
It's big, just not point-of-no-return big.
"The timing of the game is a little bit different, but it's still very important," Crimson Tide quarterback Greg McElroy said. "Obviously without a victory on Saturday, we're going to have a harder time getting to where we want to be."
Well, not necessarily. The Gators (4-0, 2-0 SEC) and Tide (4-0, 1-0) still could meet for the league title.
"The last several years, it seems like these two teams find ways to win games," Florida coach Urban Meyer said. "We better be locked and loaded. Everybody has to be on point. All-in is something we talk about. Everybody has to be all-in, that means everybody has to have excellence to have a chance to go win this game."
If both teams were to win their remaining games -- hardly a sure thing in a league with five teams ranked in the top 15 -- that's exactly what will happen. Now, that game could be for a national championship shot.
And there likely won't be a bigger challenge in between. These two teams have made a habit of winning big games the past few years and accounted for the past two national champions, though Alabama is a nine-point favorite this time.
McElroy is practically an old hand in this kind of game. Florida's John Brantley knows well the view from the sidelines in the big ones from when Tim Tebow was running the show.
Clearly the quarterback battle has changed, too.
McElroy came into last year's game regarded as the offensive caretaker. His assignment: Don't make mistakes and get the ball to the Tide's playmakers. Instead, he was the MVP, outshining Tebow and leading Alabama to a 32-13 win in what he regards as perhaps his best college game.
Alabama went on to win the BCS national title game over Texas with McElroy mostly handing off to Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. But Florida defenders know better than most that the Tide's offense starts with those runners but doesn't stop there.
There's also McElroy and favored target Julio Jones, among others.
"Everyone knows that Alabama has two of the best running backs in the country and they're always going to get a lot of attention," Gators defensive end Justin Trattou said. "We definitely don't take for granted their quarterback, and they have some big-time threats at receiver that we're going to have to focus on and prepare for this week."
Shaky for a while, Brantley and the Gators seemed to hit their stride last week with a 48-14 romp over Kentucky that included a Tebow-like performance by freshman Trey Burton. He accounted for a school-record six touchdowns, mostly as the quarterback in the Wildcat formation.
Brantley will face a young secondary that has been targeted for some big plays -- and made some of their own. The Tide's eight picks is second in the SEC, and sophomore safety Robert Lester has four of them. He swiped two of Ryan Mallett's passes at Arkansas last weekend.
Tide coach Nick Saban said he thinks Brantley has improved each week, but also thinks Burton's Wildcat success brings additional challenges.
"The guy (Burton) is a very good player," Saban said. "It does create some problems, but it creates more problems when you've got one guy who can do it all because you have to defend it all, all the time. This guy is a very good player. Brantley is a very good passer, so the combination of those two guys does present some issues and problems."
That's just for starters. Speedy tailback Jeff Demps, the Gators' leading rusher, is expected to play after re-injuring a bruised left foot against Kentucky.
He provides a contrast to the power running of Ingram and Richardson, who have combined for eight touchdowns, even though Ingram has only played in two games because of a knee injury. But, like Alabama's defense, Florida has only allowed one rushing touchdown. The Gators are giving up just 94 yards a game on the ground.
"We're starting to click as a team, I think," Brantley said. "We're starting to find our identity. I think it's getting back to where we were last year when we came out firing."
AP Sports Writer Mark Long in Gainesville, Fla., contributed to this report.
Top 25 Overview
The winner of the past two matchups has gone on to win the national title, though both of those instances came in the SEC championship game. Between them, they've won 52 straight regular-season games (Alabama 28, Florida 24). The Gators exorcised some offensive demons last week in a 48-14 win over Kentucky while Mark Ingram led the Crimson Tide to a comeback win on the road at Arkansas.
Florida's offense gained momentum in Week 4 but will be facing a much bigger challenge against Alabama in Week 5.
|Avg Points Allowed||17.6||9.0|
South Carolina would be smart to try to stay out of third down passing situations against Alabama on Saturday as the Crimson Tide are the best third down passing defense in the country. South Carolina would also play into a strength of its own by getting to third-and-short. The Gamecocks have converted 85.7 percent of third downs with three or fewer yards to go, third best in the FBS.[+]
Defensive Pass Efficiency Leaders
NEXT LEVEL: Alabama's defense has not done well defending downfield passes in its last two games. Ryan Mallett and John Brantley have been able to find holes in the Tide secondary, and this could be an area for Steve Spurrier to exploit.[+]
Alabama Defense vs Passes Thrown 15+ Yards
NEXT LEVEL: Against Florida, Alabama ran the ball out of the pistol formation only one time for no gain, but Mark Ingram has had the most success this season when running out of the pistol. Ingram's four longest runs of 2010 have come after being lined up in the pistol. (In the pistol offense, the quarterback is not under center, but also closer to the center than a traditional shotgun snap. The running back then lines up behind the quarterback.)[+]
Mark Ingram Rushing by Formation
Tonight in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Florida will meet with one of them ranked No. 1 and the other also ranked in the AP poll for the 3rd straight season. This is just the second series in the AP poll era (since 1936) where the teams have met in at least 3 straight seasons with one ranked No. 1 and the other also ranked. The other series in which this has happened is Army and Notre Dame, who met in 5 straight seasons where one was ranked No. 1 and the other was also ranked. In all 6 previous cases in both series in which there was a winner, that team went on to win the national title that season (in 1946, Notre Dame went on to win the national title after tying Army). Alabama-Florida 2008: (2) Florida 31, (1) Alabama 20 in SEC Championship Game at Georgia Dome in Atlanta 2009: (2) Alabama 32, (1) Florida 13 in SEC Championship Game at Georgia Dome in Atlanta 2010: (7) Florida at (1) Alabama in Tuscaloosa Army-Notre Dame 1943: (1) Notre Dame 26, (3) Army 0 at Yankee Stadium 1944: (1) Army 59, (5) Notre Dame 0 at Yankee Stadium 1945: (1) Army 48, (2) Notre Dame 0 at Yankee Stadium 1946: (1) Army 0, (2) Notre Dame 0 at Yankee Stadium 1947: (1) Notre Dame 27, (9) Army 7 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend[+]
Met in 3+ Consecutive Seasons with One Team as AP No. 1 - Other Team Also Ranked in AP Poll
In 2008, Alabama entered the 4th quarter of the SEC Championship Game holding a 20-17 lead over Florida. But Tim Tebow directed a pair TD drives to lift the Gators to a 31-20 victory, the SEC title and a berth in the BCS National Championship Game. Florida went on to beat Oklahoma 24-14 and win its 2nd BCS title in 3 seasons - both under Urban Meyer. Nick Saban used that SEC title game loss as motivation to push his team so the Crimson Tide would never lose another game in the 4th quarter. So far, so good. Since the start of the 2009 season, Bama has outscored its opponents 152-35, including a 31-3 margin this season, a primary reason the Tide have won 18 straight games (nation's longest active win streak). Florida hasn't wilted either, outscoring its opponents 142-57 over that same span (44-10 this season).
Top-ranked Alabama defeated 10th-ranked Arkansas last week and faces 7th-ranked Florida this week. Alabama is only the 4th AP No. 1 ranked team in the last 44 seasons and 9th top-ranked team in the AP Poll era (since 1936) to face top-ten teams in back-to-back weeks. In the now 9 instances in which it has happened, the top-ranked team went 7-0-2 in the 1st game ('66 Notre Dame tied 2nd-ranked Michigan State and '46 Army tied 2nd-ranked Notre Dame). In both cases, they remained No. 1 after the tie. The previous 8 times, the top-ranked team has gone 6-2 the following week, with '08 Texas losing to 6th-ranked Texas Tech and '36 Minnesota losing to 3rd-ranked Northwestern. The 1936 Minnesota team faced back-to-back top-10 teams in the 1st 2 polls in the history of the AP Poll, losing the 2nd matchup. Since then, in 74 seasons, only 2008 Texas has lost the 2nd game.[+]
AP No. 1 Team Facing Top-10 Opponent in Back-to-Back Weeks - AP Poll Era (Since 1936)
Mark Ingram returned to his role as the featured back in Alabama's backfield against Arkansas, taking 75 percent of the carries that went to a running back. Ingram's injury to start the season has not taken away his ability to shake off defenders or simply run through them. Ingram has gained just about half of his rushing yards this season after contact.[+]
Mark Ingram Rushing
John Brantley hasn't been able to hit downfield passes on first down this season, which might be one reason why Florida's first down rushing isn't as potent as 2009. If defenses can stack the box on first down and not worry about getting beat over the top, Florida's rushing game might continue suffer.[+]
John Brantley vs Tim Tebow
Florida Freshman Trey Burton is already reminding people of a freshman from 2006 that turned into the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner. But Trey Burton is already ahead of where Tim Tebow was after 5 games. After 5 Games, Freshman Seasons Trey Burton: 55 rush yards, 44 rec yards, 8 total TD Tim Tebow: 165 rush yards, 93 pass yards, 1 rush TD
ESPN Stats & Information