Now that the shock of No. 11 Florida’s stunning 37-34 home loss to LSU has worn off, we can fully look ahead to Saturday’s SEC championship game against No. 1 Alabama. Here are six random thoughts on the matchup:
1. UF is about a 17-point underdog, at least according to the betting lines I’ve seen. That seems about right. The Gators’ best path to victory is a shootout. Alabama’s high-powered offense can score on anyone. The Gators probably can, too. If UF can get in a back-and-forth scoring match, as Ole Miss did in a 63-48 barn burner in October, the Gators have a chance at toppling the Crimson Tide.
2. One stat you’ll hear this week is that Dan Mullen has never beaten Nick Saban as a head coach. Ignore it.
The figure is true, of course. At Mississippi State, Mullen was 0-9 against Saban. Only two of those losses were by one score, and one of them was a 25-20 defeat in 2014 that ended the No. 1 Bulldogs’ quest for a perfect season. But Mississippi State didn’t have the depth, talent or resources of the Gators. Realistically, Mullen shouldn’t have been competing with Saban’s Crimson Tide, so don’t read much into those past performances.
3. This is a great quarterback duel between UF’s Kyle Trask and Alabama’s Mac Jones.
Trask’s Heisman Trophy chances took a significant hit against LSU, but I still expect the winner of this matchup to win the award. That doesn’t mean the winner will have my vote. I’m still not sure Trask and Jones are the most outstanding players on their teams (I’d argue for Gators tight end Kyle Pitts and ‘Bama receiver DeVonta Smith). Speaking of which ...
4. Kyle Pitts will likely be UF’s X-factor, assuming he returns from an unspecified injury that kept him from practicing last week and sidelined him for the LSU game. Over the course of the season, he has destroyed coverage by cornerbacks, nickelbacks, safeties, linebackers and edge rushers. His absence was glaring against the Tigers. Alabama is loaded with talent, of course, and has an all-time great defensive mind (Saban) coming up with the schemes. But I don’t know if anyone can stop Pitts. He might have to have a monster performance to keep the Gators close.
5. One matchup to watch: Alabama center Landon Dickerson against the Gators’ interior line.
UF’s biggest defensive struggles happened early when defensive tackle Kyree Campbell was out. That’s not a coincidence. His return boosted the entire lineup by allowing others to return to their more natural positions. But can he and his teammates challenge Dickerson, the Florida State transfer who has blossomed into one of the nation’s best centers?
6. One bold prediction: UF tries some special-teams trickery, like a fake punt or surprise onside kick to try to steal an extra possession.