Photo courtesy of Florida athletics
A berth in the College Football Playoff may be a long shot or completely out of the question for Florida, but a first SEC crown in 12 years will be on the line on Saturday in Atlanta.
Seventh-ranked Florida will look to do something in the SEC Championship on Saturday that no team has this season — beat Alabama. The Crimson Tide are 10-0 and ranked No. 1 in the country. Fresh off a 37-34 upset loss to LSU, Florida comes in with a record of 8-2.
This will be the 10th SEC Championship meeting between the teams and first since 2016. That’s more than any two teams have met in any conference championship game ever.
The story on Saturday will be the Heisman Trophy hopefuls at quarterback. Alabama’s Mac Jones leads the nation in passer rating and yards per attempt while ranking second in completion percentage. Kyle Trask leads the nation with a Florida record 40 touchdown passes and is less than 200 yards from breaking Rex Grossman’s single-season school passing record.
This contest may feature the nation’s best wide receiver and best tight end. Florida’s Kyle Pitts has played in just seven games, but leads all tight ends nationally with 11 touchdown catches — good for fourth in the country. Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith leads the nation in receiving with 1,327 yards. He ranks second nationally in receptions (83) and touchdowns (15).
The talent at the skill positions however, doesn’t stop there. Kadarius Toney is one of the nation’s more versatile players and leads the Gators with nearly 1,000 yards from scrimmage. On the ground, Alabama’s Najee Harris has rushed for nearly 1,100 yards and leads the nation with 22 rushing touchdowns.
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If there is one phase of the game where one team holds a distinct advantage over another, it’s Alabama’s defense compared to Florida. Since a 63-48 win over Ole Miss early in the season, Alabama is allowing just 11 points per game. The Crimson Tide rank 11th nationally in scoring defense and lead the SEC.
Defensive end Christian Barmore is tied for the SEC lead with six sacks. Freshman Malachi Moore has a team-high three interceptions. Linebackers Christian Harris and Dylan Moses are the top two tacklers for Alabama.
Florida had held three straight opponents below 20 points before struggling last week against LSU. The Gators have allowed at least 35 points four times this season.
They do lead the SEC in sacks with 31 as a team. Brenton Cox Jr. and Zachary Carter each have a team-high four. Linebacker Ventrell Miller is the leading tackler with 80 total tackles.
Alabama is 5-4 all-time against Florida in the SEC Championship and has won six straight games in the series dating back to 2009. The Gators beat Alabama 24-13 in the 2008 SEC Championship. That’s the only loss for the Crimson Tide in the SEC title game under head coach Nick Saban.
Saturday’s contest in Atlanta begins at 8 p.m. ET and will air on CBS.
Prediction: Alabama 41, Florida 27
Games Across the State
Florida State (3-6) at Wake Forest (4-4)
Saturday, Dec. 19 at 12 p.m. ET (ACC Network)
After three weeks off, Florida State played its most impressive game of the season last week against Duke, winning 56-35. Wake Forest will look to avoid losing three straight games to close the regular season after a 4-2 start. The Demon Deacons snapped a 7-game losing streak to FSU last season in Winston-Salem, 22-20.
Prediction: Wake Forest 45, Florida State 31
Boca Raton Bowl: UCF (6-3) at No. 17 BYU (10-1)
Tuesday, Dec. 22 at 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
BYU and UCF will each enter the Boca Raton Bowl ranking in the top 10 nationally in total and scoring offense. A victory would put BYU at 11 wins for the first time since 2007. UCF hasn’t lost more than three games in a season since 2016.
Prediction: BYU 38, UCF 36
Montgomery Bowl: Memphis (7-3) vs. Florida Atlantic (5-3)
Wednesday, Dec. 23 at 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Memphis is in a bowl game for the seventh straight season, but has lost its last five bowl appearances. Florida Atlantic is 4-0 all-time in bowl games, including a 44-27 win over Memphis in the 2007 New Orleans Bowl — the first bowl appearance ever for the Owls. After starting 5-1, FAU enters bowl season on a 2-game skid.
Prediction: Memphis 44, Florida Atlantic 20
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5) at Atlanta Falcons (4-9)
Sunday, Dec. 20 at 1 p.m. ET (FOX)
A victory on Sunday would assure the Tampa Bay Buccaneers their first winning season since 2016. Tampa Bay has been better on the road than at home this season with a 4-2 record on the road. The Buccaneers and Atlanta will meet twice over the final three weeks of the season.
Prediction: Tampa Bay 34, Atlanta 22
New England Patriots (6-7) at Miami Dolphins (8-5)
Sunday, Dec. 20 at 1 p.m. ET (CBS)
The Miami Dolphins will look to secure their first winning season since 2016 and salvage a season split with the New England Patriots for the fourth straight season. New England has had a winning season in each of the previous 19, but that would not be a case with the loss. Miami currently occupies the final playoff spot in the AFC.
Prediction: Miami 23, New England 20
Jacksonville Jaguars (1-12) at Baltimore Ravens (8-5)
Sunday, Dec. 20 at 1 p.m. ET (CBS)
The Jacksonville Jaguars have lost 12 straight games since winning their opener. The Baltimore Ravens are coming off a thrilling win over the Cleveland Browns. Baltimore is currently tied for the final playoff spot in the AFC.
Prediction: Baltimore 38, Jacksonville 20
EDITOR’S NOTE: Saturday’s contest between Florida State and Wake Forest has since been canceled.