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Florida Gators, Alabama Crimson Tide play for more than SEC title

ATLANTA — In Hollywood, this would be known as overkill.

For instance, the Southeastern Conference title is at stake today. Not to mention that it's the nation's No. 1-ranked team taking on No. 2. And by the way, the winner will likely go on to play for the national championship.

Honestly, shouldn't that be enough? More than enough, actually.

So why does it feel like so much more is at stake?

Why does this single game between Alabama and Florida seem like a referendum between the SEC's past and its future? Why does it feel like a showdown between those who grunt and those who glide?

Why will these three hours of college football have the chance to live forever?

Because games such as this do not come along every day. Or every century. In the 75-year history of the SEC, this is the first time two member teams have met when ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the Associated Press poll. That in itself is enough to give the game an inordinate sense of history.

But this is a rare case where substance shares the stage with style. It is not just that Alabama is 12-0, but that the Crimson Tide plays a brand of football that would feel just as natural in 1968. And it's not just that Florida is 11-1, but that the Gators are revolutionizing the way teams approach offensive formations.

Naturally, the coaches dismiss such labels. Alabama's Nick Saban does not want to lump his style in with others in some old-fashioned bin. And Florida's Urban Meyer hates when his offense is dismissed as some new gimmick.

But the truth is Alabama plays a straight-ahead brand of offense, daring teams to stop its running game. And Florida is using a high-tech version of the single wing that has opposing coaches scrambling to catch up.

That could make today's game more than just a simple smackdown of talent. It has the potential to influence styles in a sport notorious for its copycat ways.

Much like the way Steve Spurrier changed the SEC in the 1990s with his passing formations, Meyer has a chance to reinvent how offensive coaches approach their game plans. And Saban is carrying the banner for those who believe the basics never go out of style.

"The contrast in style is because both teams know who they are and they play to the style that they need to have success," Saban said. "Sometimes you can recruit to a style, but you never put your style ahead of the personnel because it's all about the players. What we do allows us to have our most success, and I think what Florida does with their players allows them to be most successful."

The differences in styles are intriguing because they mirror the histories of the programs.

You think about Alabama, and you think about blood-and-guts football. You think about Bear Bryant and SEC titles stacking one on top of the other in the 1960s and '70s.

The Tide ruled the conference like no other program before or since. Alabama won 12 SEC titles and a share of five national championships in 18 years, an unprecedented level of success in one of the sport's most prestigious leagues.

And Florida is the only school that has come close to matching that kind of run. Should they win this afternoon, the Gators will have eight league championships in 17 seasons and a chance to win their third national title in a little more than a decade.

"If I'm a 22-year-old coach and I have to figure out how to go win a game, I'm going to sit in front of the TV, or somehow find a tape, and watch this game, because this is classic football," Meyer said. "It's the same way you won 70 years ago, and 70 years from now, this is how you're going to win again."

Although they differ in points of view, Meyer insists the programs still see things the same way. And it's true that for all the talk of Alabama's running game, the Gators average more yards rushing. And though close-to-the-vest Alabama is at the top of the conference in scoring defense, the Gators are right behind.

The difference is in how they get there. Florida has such a quick-strike offense, it often takes other teams out of their game plans by the second quarter because they have to play catchup. Alabama, on the other hand, tends to wear teams down with its relentless approach.

So which style is more effective?

That's what this game will answer.

That, and the SEC championship. And a possible national championship.

That's all.

Florida Gators, Alabama Crimson Tide play for more than SEC title 12/05/08 [Last modified: Sunday, December 7, 2008 11:42am]

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