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Florida Gators-Alabama Crimson Tide SEC title game preview

Florida’s Percy Harvin has not practiced this week because of a sprained right ankle.

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Florida’s Percy Harvin has not practiced this week because of a sprained right ankle.

Three keys to the game

1. Stopping the run

Alabama boasts two of the SEC's top rushers in Glen Coffee and Mark Ingram. Coffee has rushed for 1,235 yards. Ingram's 11 touchdowns set a school record. Florida's defensive line has been hit hard by injuries and will rely on role players. On the flip side, five Gators — Percy Harvin, Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey, Emmanuel Moody and Kestahn Moore — have accounted for 2,257 yards. But their offensive line faces its biggest challenge — literally — led by tackle Terrence Cody (6 feet 5, 365 pounds). Alabama is 13-2 under Nick Saban when allowing fewer than 100 rushing yards, 10-0 this year.

2. Containing the hype

The only way this game could be any bigger is if they were actually playing for the national championship. Both teams pride themselves on being able to take it one game at a time. Whichever team can remain even-keeled and not get caught up in the magnitude of the game — and what's at stake — most likely will win. "The best opportunity we're going to have to be successful is be who we are, compete the way we can compete, play the way we need to play," Alabama coach Nick Saban said.

3. Momentum

Florida has outscored opponents 160-10 in the first quarter. Alabama has trailed for just 23:11 over its past 13 games dating to last season's loss at Auburn. The Crimson Tide has been tied or ahead in just fewer than 688 of the past 720 minutes of football. Florida coach Urban Meyer believes the first three offensive series will be key for both teams as they determine how the other will play. History has shown that if either of these teams jumps ahead, it's tough for the other to come back.

Percy or no Percy?

The biggest question for Florida is whether star running back/receiver Percy Harvin will play. The junior sprained his right ankle during the first half of last week's win at Florida State. "We're going to hold him until everyone leaves (Friday's practice), and then I'm going to make that evaluation," coach Urban Meyer said Friday afternoon. Although Harvin hasn't practiced all week, Meyer said it helps that this wouldn't be the first time he has missed practice time then played a game. "We did this a couple of years ago. We locked him down (in a protective boot)," Meyer said. "Sprained ankles, I've been told, you lock it down and you don't move. … He was instructed not to move until we got here." Besides kicker Jonathan Phillips, Harvin is the Gators' leading scorer with 96 points (16 touchdowns) and has 538 rushing yards and 595 receiving.

Top (under) dog

You wouldn't think it's possible to be undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the nation yet still be a 10-point underdog. But that's the situation for the Tide.

"I just think that Florida has rolled to an extent," said CBS announcer Verne Lundquist, who will call today's game. "The victories by Alabama have been much harder-fought, much closer games. And there's a romance to Florida and what they've done in terms of the perception of this team. They are so interesting to watch, and they've captured the imagination of those who cover college football."

Style vs. finesse

Florida is scoring nearly 45 points per game. Alabama coach Nick Saban is a defensive guru whose team is ranked second nationally, allowing 248.5 yards per game. Meyer and Saban said too much is being made out of the flash vs. force story line, but others disagree.

"I don't think enough is being made out of it," said CBS analyst Gary Danielson, who will call today's game. "The great fights, the great matches, style makes the fight. This is the most intriguing matchup that I've ever done. And basically, it's because of the styles. This is basically Frazier vs. Ali. This is ugly vs. pretty, new vs. old, spread out vs. tight."

Florida Gators-Alabama Crimson Tide SEC title game preview 12/05/08 [Last modified: Friday, December 5, 2008 10:11pm]
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