We’ve been here before, haven’t we? Florida … Alabama … Atlanta … Southeastern Conference football championship on the line … possible BCS National Championship berth to be earned.
For the third straight year, the SEC season will end with the Gators and Crimson Tide battling for a spot in the BCS championship game.
But this game has an added oddity to it, as top-ranked Alabama enters the contest as the nation’s only unbeaten team. That means a close loss to No. 2 Florida could mean … no, it couldn’t possibly … yes, it does mean we could see Gators-Tide Part III for everything.
How did we get here?
Here is a look at the one-loss teams and where they stumbled: Florida, Oct. 2 at Alabama; Ohio State, Nov. 20 at Iowa; Boise State, Sept. 25 vs. Oregon State; Texas Christian, Nov. 6 at Utah; Oregon, Oct. 2 vs. Stanford; Oklahoma, Oct. 2 vs. Texas; Texas, Nov. 16 at Nebraska; Nebraska, Nov. 20 at Texas A&M; Iowa, Oct. 23 vs. Wisconsin; Wisconsin, Oct. 16 vs. Ohio State.
Oh, what a mess this BCS!
Basically, just one thing is probable – the winner of the SEC Championship Game will be playing for the national title. The other team either will be Alabama (if UF wins a very close SEC Championship) or Texas, which will avenge its only regular season loss with a defeat of Nebraska in the Big 12 title game. Either way, there are a lot of teams with beefs about the system.
First things first, though. We need to find an SEC champion.
Florida (11-1) vs. Alabama (12-0) in SEC Championship at Georgia Dome, Atlanta:
Breakdown: The first game, on Oct. 2 in Tuscaloosa, was one of the season’s best. There, Alabama got a late interception from cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick to hold off the hard-charging Gators, 31-24.
The Crimson Tide’s biggest weapon that day was sophomore running back Trent Richardson, who carried 17 times for 134 yards and a touchdown. Florida, meanwhile, was led by quarterback John Brantley (26-of-35 for 334 yards with two touchdowns and an interception) and receiver Omarius Hines (five receptions for 108 yards).
Entering the first contest Richardson knew he would have to carry much of the load with 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram limited to seven carries with an ankle injury. This time, both backs are fully healthy, though quarterback Greg McElroy enters the contest slowed by a minor knee sprain. Florida comes in healthy except for tough-guy center Mike Pouncey, who will play with a broken bone in his left wrist.
This one opens fast for the Gators, who get on the board with a bubble screen that Deonte Thompson takes 35 yards for a score. Hines puts a nice block on safety Mark Barron to free up Thompson. After an interception by safety Will Hill, Florida goes up 10-0 with five minutes left in the first quarter on a 53-yard field goal from Caleb Sturgis.
Alabama responds to the second score with a 14-play, 86-yard drive that is culminated by a 6-yard touchdown pass from McElroy to Ingram. Sturgis sees a 45-yard field goal bounce off the right upright as the half ends.
Down 10-7, the Crimson Tide take their first lead of the day on a 12-yard touchdown run from Ingram with 8:08 left in the third. They go ahead 17-10 on a 28-yard field goal from freshman Cade Foster. That was set up after Chris Rainey is stripped by Barron following a catch-and-run at the 50.
The score stays the same until Florida starts a series at its own 31 with 3:11 to play. The Gators then play some of their best football of the season, as Brantley completes 4 of 5 passes, Jeff Demps carries three times for 20 yards and Emmanuel Moody contributes a 21-yard run to give UF first-and-goal at the Tide 5 with 14 seconds remaining.
Brantley then throws away a ball to avoid a sack, making it second down with seven seconds left. The next down sees Brantley hit Carl Moore on a short slant for a touchdown.
Then, bucking conventional wisdom, UF coach Urban Meyer signals for his team to go for two. With no timeouts remaining, Alabama scrambles to get the right personnel on the field and the Gators snap the ball quickly, allowing Brantley to throw a dart to an open Thompson to win the SEC Championship.
Player of the Game: Hill records seven tackles, intercepts a pass and, in a new defensive twist for UF, sacks McElroy twice to earn MVP honors.
The Pick: Florida 18, Alabama 17
BOWL GAMES FOR SEC TEAMS
BCS Championship: Alabama vs. Florida
Cotton: Nebraska vs. Arkansas
Capital One: South Carolina vs. Iowa
Outback: Wisconsin vs. LSU
Gator: Kentucky vs. Penn State
Chick-fil-A: Georgia vs. Miami
Liberty: Houston vs. Mississippi
Music City: Auburn vs. Virginia Tech
HEISMAN TROPHY TOP 10
1. Ryan Mallett, Arkansas QB
2. Kellen Moore, Boise State QB
3. Christian Ponder, Florida State QB
4. Dion Lewis, Pittsburgh RB
5. Case Keenum, Houston QB
6. Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State QB
7. Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State RB
8. John Clay, Wisconsin RB
9. John Brantley, Florida QB
10. Mark Herzlich, Boston College LB