Fresh off a rivalry loss, No. 15 Florida Gators football faces its toughest test of the season as it faces the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide for the second straight season and ninth time ever in the SEC Championship Game. Florida is a massive underdog in Saturday’s contest as it looks for a huge upset, though the upset itself would not impact the College Football Playoff picture.
Here’s what you need to know and how you can watch Gators-Crimson Tide.
Event: 2016 SEC Championship Game
Location: Georgia Dome – Atlanta, Georgia [Capacity: 71,228]
Time: 4:00 p.m. EST
TV: CBS (Verne Lundquist, Gary Danielson, Allie LaForce)
Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter
Tale of the tape
|No. 15 Florida Gators||No. 1 Alabama|
|Head Coach||Jim McElwain||Nick Saban|
|Record||8-3 (6-2 SEC)||12-0 (8-0 SEC)|
Three things to know
1. Sugar Bowl is on the line: While Florida’s three losses will keep it from the CFP no matter what, the Gators are fighting for a berth in the Sugar Bowl on Saturday. The CFP Selection Committee has shown that it will not drop championship game losers much — or at all — in the CFP Rankings, but to this point there has yet to be a blowout in such games. UF currently sits at No. 15, just two spots above No. 17 Auburn. While a close or competitive loss would not drop Florida, a blowout might, which would send the Gators down to the Outback Bowl in Tampa instead of the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. It would also cost the athletic department a nice paycheck.
2. Pride is on the line, too: Odds may be against Florida pulling off a win, but the Gators have no choice but to enter the game with the opposite expectation. There’s a lot riding on UF’s performance in this game, namely sentiment about McElwain’s job, recruiting and the team’s confidence that it is heading in the right direction under a second-year coach. McElwain has led Florida to consecutive SEC East titles, but the Gators have also looked non-competitive in a number of games over the last few years, due in large part to injuries and offense. UF rebounded from a rout against Florida State to a gutty performance against Alabama one year ago; it must do the same thing again, even if it comes in a losing effort.
3. Will there be some creativity? It’s tough to make wholesale offensive changes during the season, but the Gators have been awfully bland on that side of the ball in 2016. The same can be said about Florida’s special teams, which has been wholly unable to do anything in the return game and has not attempted a single fake all season. McElwain is not Les Miles, but it would behoove UF to have a couple tricks up its sleeve on Saturday, whether in terms of opening its playbook or finding some guts on special teams. Either way, if Florida wants to win, it’s going to have to put together a special performance.
Pick and analysis
Spread: Florida +24.5 | O/U: 40.5
The spread is massive. And for good reason. The Crimson Tide enter Saturday with an all-time defense, one relatively healthy and prepared to feast on a Gators team that remains among the bottom teams nationally in most offensive categories. On top of that, Florida is incredibly banged up on both sides of the ball but particularly so on defense. UF enters missing two of its three leading tacklers (the other is hobbled), three total members of its starting secondary and two starting pass rushers. It will also be thin up front without its starting center and with two other starting offensive linemen dinged up at best.
Alabama, which has been a double-digit favorite against all but one team it played this season (LSU), is going to win Saturday. There’s nothing wrong or embarrassing about that. But it’s how and by what margin the Tide win that we’re concerned with here. Despite the injuries, I lean with the experts and oddsmakers here in taking Florida with the points, even though I think it will score few if any in the game. Should the Gators be able to post something, it will be a long field goal or two, perhaps a touchdown off a turnover. But I also think a complete shutout by Alabama is possible, which is why going under the low total of 40.5 is also my pick.
2016 records: ATS picks 4-7 | O/U picks 5-6
Injuries and absences
Probable (3): LB Jarrad Davis (ankle), OL Martez Ivey (ankle), WR Ahmad Fulwood (undisclosed)
Questionable (2): TE C’yontai Lewis (ankle), OL Fred Johnson (undisclosed)
Limited (1): QB Luke Del Rio (shoulder)
Doubtful (4): DE Bryan Cox Jr. (ankle), LB Daniel McMillian (arm), S Nick Washington (ankle), DB Duke Dawson (ankle)
Out (6): C Cameron Dillard (knee), RB Mark Herndon (hamstring), LB Jeremiah Moon (thumb), S Jeawon Taylor (arm), DL Justus Reed (undisclosed), WR C.J. Worton (undisclosed)
Out for the season (6): DE Jordan Sherit (knee), LB Alex Anzalone (arm), S Marcus Maye (arm), WR Dre Massey (knee), OL Antonio Riles (knee), DB C.J. McWilliams (undisclosed)
» Florida and Alabama met in the first SEC Championship Game in 1992 and have squared off eight times in total. This is the ninth meeting, which will break a 4-4 head-to-head record between the schools in the game.
» The Gators enter Saturday leading the SEC with seven league titles. The Crimson Tide have six and are looking to tie their long-time foes.
» Alabama is 25-14 all-time against Florida, though the teams are 8-8 at neutral sites. The Tide have won eight of their last 10 games against the Gators, including five straight dating back to the 2009 SEC Championship Game.
» Jim McElwain is the first coach in SEC history to play for the conference title in his first two seasons at the helm of his program.
» UF’s defense has been a hallmark of the program; the Gators are 212-11 since 1990 when an opponent scores 21 points or fewer in a contest, including 17-0 under McElwain.
» Also under McElwain, Florida is 16-1 against unranked opponents and 2-6 against ranked opponents. UF is 14-0 when outrushing an opponent, 16-2 when scoring first and 14-1 when leading at half.
» The Gators own the nation’s longest streak of returning either a kickoff or punt for a touchdown, doing so in 12 straight seasons.
» Florida has the second-most wins in the nation since 1990 (257).
Florida is wearing all orange — jerseys, pants and classic helmets — on Saturday in the SEC Championship Game. The team captains, which change weekly, are responsible for choosing the uniforms ahead of each game.