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SEC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: GAME 12: FLORIDA 45, ALABAMA 30 // Another crown, another chance

He tried to warn us.

For more than two weeks Steve Spurrier pitched the line _ with a straight face, mind you _ that the SEC Championship was the most important game on Florida's schedule. Bigger, even, than Florida State.

The coach was right.

Given new national-title life earlier in the day thanks to Texas, No. 4 Florida beat No. 15 Alabama 45-30 in the title game at the Georgia Dome _ a victory that earned the Gators a fourth straight SEC crown and a likely shot at the national championship.

"Winning the SEC Championship was one of our goals of the year," Spurrier said. "We are a happy bunch of Gators. These championships never get old. This one was just as good as that one in "93, "94 and "95."

Florida senior Danny Wuerffel _ the only quarterback to play a major role in four SEC titles _ threw for 401 yards and six touchdowns, both easily title-game records, in an effort that should put to rest any Heisman Trophy doubts conjured by last week's 24-21 loss at Florida State.

"I can just remember throughout the day looking at the faces of the seniors, some of the guys who have been here the whole time," Wuerffel said. "You see the gleam in their eyes and how special it is."

With the final seconds of the regular season ticking away, Gators fans pelted the field with sugar cubes, calling for the Seminoles _ "FSU! FSU! FSU!" _ and a rematch of last week's No. 1 vs. No. 2.

They'll get it.

Coupled with Texas' upset of No. 3 Nebraska in the Big 12 title game, Florida's victory should move the Gators into the third spot in the polls, making it the highest-ranked team eligible to meet No. 1 Florida State in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2.

"We are excited about playing FSU," wide receiver Jacquez Green said. "We are the two best teams in the nation, and we should play each other."

Alabama reached the title game with its defense. The Tide entered the game ranked sixth nationally in total defense _ tops in pass defense _ and was tied with Ohio State for giving up the fewest touchdown passes _ five.

Wuerffel, directing the nation's top-ranked offense, threw that many, plus one more. In his five games this season against ranked teams, Wuerffel threw 22 TDs.

While the Tide gave up a season-high 470 yards, Florida's defense stopped Alabama's potent running game, holding the Tide to 27 yards on 27 carries.

The Gators took control during three consecutive first-half possessions in which Wuerffel threw touchdown passes to three different receivers in 6{ minutes. He threw scoring passes of 46 yards to Ike Hilliard, 21 to Reidel Anthony and 45 to Elijah Williams for a 21-7 Gators lead with 11:35 left in the second quarter.

The reception by Anthony set an NCAA record of 11 consecutive games with at least one TD catch. But if any play signified Florida was destined for victory, it was the third score.

First, Wuerffel fumbled the snap. Then, after recovering his own fumble, he missed the handoff to Green on an apparent end-around. So, he turned around and lofted a pass to Williams on a crossing pattern. Williams beat one defender and streaked down the sideline for the end zone.

Even Spurrier had to smile.