Tim Tebow gets most of the credit for being the Gators' leader. But do not overlook what Brandon Spikes has done the last three seasons and his impact on Saturday. He was not appointed the defensive leader in 2007; he was shoved into the role as was everyone else who had a spot to fill and failed at it. For 2008, he took the responsibility, leading his team with emotion and skill. It was Brandon Spikes who made the first "F You" move of 2008 (interception return against LSU) and the most significant play against Georgia (his tackle of Knowshon Moreno).
Anyone who has watched Florida this season knows that the defense is a different animal with Spikes in the middle. They still have skilled guys, but Spikes seems to make the unit more aggressive, more violent. The incident against Georgia, in a base sense, was Spikes taking responsibility and defending his team. Florida does not have anyone else to do that. In Saturday's game, Spikes' ability to turn the knob to 11 will be crucial against an Alabama team looking to control the line of scrimmage.
Do not overlook where Spikes is from and where he is going, either. Tebow, for all his characteristics, does not have the background of most people. He was born in a foreign country, extremely religious, homeschooled, was able to pick any high school team he wanted and has been promoted since his senior year of high school. Spikes is the opposite of Tebow. He is not clean cut, from a rural town, with a brother in prison and has become Public Enemy No. 1 for a lot of fans, including some of Florida's.
For those on the Gators who do not connect with Tebow, they connect with Spikes. When Spikes stayed for one more season, it had an impact in the sense that he felt there was unfinished business. Yes, Tebow came back too. But Tebow came from a comfortable home life and a less secure NFL future. Spikes potentially turned down being a top-15 pick and wealth that could possibly help his family, all for another chance to win.That means a lot to those who look up to him.
The game before The Game is always the hardest to win. It is not an accomplishment to win your division and that pressure can make or break a man. Brandon Spikes has been through a lot the last three years, but this game will not break him.