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Previewing UF for SEC title game vs. Alabama

Kim Klement - USA TODAY Sports

Alabama and Florida were the toast of the Southeastern Conference in the 1990s.

Both schools met each other often for conference titles and battled for opportunities at a national championship. It was a 31-20 loss in the 2008 SEC title game against Florida that started Alabama on a championship dynasty. Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban has coached the program to three national titles and three conference championships since then. This weekend will see a clash of titans be renewed in Atlanta.

Florida no longer has Urban Meyer as a coach or Tim Tebow as a quarterback, yet it finds itself back in Atlanta for the first time since 2009. Gators’ head coach Jim McElwain delivered the fan base an SEC East crown, and now looks to dethrone Saban at the Georgia Dome. Yours truly of TDAM now looks at Florida’s impact players.

Florida Gators: 10-2, (6-1 in SEC)

An overtime win against Florida Atlantic coupled with a horrible 2-27 loss to Florida State was not the way Florida envisioned to enter this year’s SEC Championship Game. Every slot machine in Las Vegas has Alabama handling the Gators by 17 points. Coach McElwain has to find ways for his offense score points, while Florida’s defense must create turnovers/negative plays. Special teams (return game) could be pivotal for the Gators.

Quarterback Treon Harris has been carefully managed since the suspension Will Grier. Regardless of his athleticism, Harris lacks consistency as a passer. He has completed 53.7 percent of his throws for 1,365 yards with eight touchdowns to four interceptions. Dialing up high percentage throws will be a must for McElwain.

Running back Kelvin Taylor is a workhorse on the ground.

The junior chimes in with 977 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns on 241 carries. He averages 81.42 yards per game on 20 attempts. Freshman Jordan Cronkite falls second behind Taylor in rushing touchdowns with three.

Florida’s senior leaders will decide whether or not wide out Demarcus Robinson plays against Alabama.

He was suspended last week in the team’s loss to Florida State and was suspended earlier this year against Idaho. Robinson leads the Gators in receptions (47) and has 505 yards with two touchdowns. If he does not play, Florida then reverts to Antonio Callaway and Brandon Powell. Callaway leads the group in receiving yards (557) and touchdowns (four). Powell has totaled 364 yards with three touchdowns on 28 catches.

Defensively, Florida ranks in the top 10 nationally in all five major categories. The Gators are sixth in total defense (284 ypg) and fourth in scoring defense (15.5 ppg). It is eighth nationally against the run (111.8 ypg) and 10th in pass efficiency defense (172.3 ypg). Linebacker Jarrad Davis sets the tone on defense for Florida.

Davis along with fellow linebacker Antonio Morrison each have 86 tackles (leads team). Morrison, a senior, has 11 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. Defensive linemen Alex McCalister and Jonathan Bullard are both sack specialist. McCalister leads the bunch with 6.5 sacks (-48), while Bullard has 5.5 sacks for a loss of 41 yards.

Bullard has more tackles for loss, guiding the unit with 15.5.

Defensive back Keanu Neal falls third on the team in tackles (77), with 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception. Vernon Hargreaves, III remains one of the best coverage cornerbacks in the SEC, despite suffering injuries. Hargreaves has four interceptions (leads team) for 152 yards and 26 total tackles.

What’s At Stake

A win for Alabama does three things: secures Derrick Henry’s shot to win the Heisman, delivers the program its 25th conference title (fourth under Saban) and positions it into the College Football Playoff.

A win for Florida and losses from other programs could set up the Gators with a New Year’s Six Bowl opportunity. It currently sits at No. 12 in the College Football Playoff rankings. This weekend will be the 39th meeting between Alabama and Florida, as the Crimson Tide leads this series 23-14. 

A combination of Blake Sims, Amari Cooper and Kenyan Drake hurt Florida against Alabama last season. Both teams have new quarterbacks under center and the stage is set. CBS Sports will air the game at 3:00 p.m. (CT).

Game Prediction: Alabama 38, Florida 10

Stephen M. Smith is a senior analyst and columnist for Touchdown Alabama MagazineYou can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @ESPN_Future.

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Stephen Smith is a 2015 graduate of the University of Alabama. He is a senior writer and reporter for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. He has covered Alabama football for 10+ years and his knowledge and coverage of the Crimson Tide's program have made him among the most respected journalist in his field. Smith has been featured on ESPN and several other marquee outlets as an analyst.

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