November 29, 2009

Back for seconds

TUSCALOOSA _ In one respect, it's like Yogi Berra once said, déjà vu all over again.

In another, the 2009 Southeastern Conference Championship Game will be exactly what most thought and expected it to be, the University of Alabama vs. Florida in a winner-takes-all matchup.

Either way, let the No. 1 vs. 2 hype begin, with a berth in the national championship game at stake just like last year, only this time the Crimson Tide doesn't come in with the top ranking.

"With all due respect, the championship game, I think it's very similar," Gators coach Urban Meyer said. "It's not a whole lot of difference between playing in the big game and then playing in the SEC Championship.

"This is every bit as big as the national championship game and we treat it like that."

Both teams are 12-0 with a likely Heisman Trophy finalist and team statistics that are in some ways eerily similar.

Florida is first nationally in total defense (233.08 yards per game) and scoring defense (9.83), while Alabama is third (233.92) and second (10.83), respectively.

The Gators are sixth in rushing offense (236.67), 12th in total offense (451.33), and 10th in scoring offense (36.5). The Tide 13th (212.92), 40th (407.42) and 25th (31.67).

Florida has better pass-efficiency numbers, but Alabama played a tougher schedule with four wins against Top 25 teams compared to just one for the Gators.

Of course, that will all be debated non-stop between now and Saturday's kickoff at the Georgia Dome, where ESPN's College Gameday will be on hand and CBS might enjoy record ratings. Last weekend's Alabama-Auburn game earned a 4.8 rating on Friday, with Tebow's final home game drawing a 5.1 rating on Saturday. Both figures were up double digits from games in the same time slots last year.

"They've got a lot of great players," Saban said about the defending national champions. "They're good in every phase of the game as a team, whether it's their defense being No. 1 in scoring defense and No. 1 in a lot of categories, and great leader in Tim Tebow on offense. They create tremendous balance, passing efficiency, run the ball effectively, and their special teams are probably in the top in every category in our league, while certainly maybe nationally.

"So this is a great opportunity."

The coaches made their comments during a media conference call late Sunday afternoon, and also updated their injury status.

For Florida, linebacker A.J. Jones (concussion) is out, while running back Emmanuel Moody (ankle) is considered questionable and cornerback Janoris Jenkins (strained hip) will likely play.
Meanwhile, Saban repeated that sophomore Mark Ingram's hip pointer was not believed to be serious.

"I think he'll be fine," he said. "We don't think he has a significant problem. I think those things are a little bit painful, especially when you first get them. It was late in the game when it happened and (he) just never really had an opportunity to go back in.

"We'll see more tomorrow and how he moves around in practice, but we feel like he'll be fine for the game."

The coach gave his team some extra rest over the weekend while Florida is coming off its ninth game in as many Saturdays. That combined with last week being an emotional one with 24 seniors, and a few juniors, saying goodbye to Gainesville has Meyer wondering how long his team can keep this up.

"I was very concerned about that last week and I can see the fatigue factor, whether it be fatigue, whether it be how many times can you play at an emotional level like we did Saturday," he said. "But I also have great confidence, what are we talking about here, we are talking about the SEC Championship Game. We'll be okay. I do worry about that, though."

One point that both coaches made, though, was that the 2008 game won by Florida 31-20, was a different season even though many of the players returned.

However, they both also had to deal with the high expectations of getting to Atlanta from day one, yet still didn't stumble despite taking everyone's best shot.

"I think last year's team, from the outset, wanted to prove something," Saban said. "So they sort of had a built-in motivation to really want to prove something, so it was maybe a little easier to motivate them on a consistent basis.

"This year's team, and I'm sure Florida's team feels the same way, you had to be good and you had to be at your best because you could be, and you wanted to be and it was important for you to be that. There wasn't some external factor out there that you were trying to prove something to somebody, and I think that's more challenging."

Said Meyer: "I really think this is a one-game season. Last year was last year."



 

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