Florida is playing in the SEC Championship Game tomorrow as the SEC East division winner. The Gators are back in Atlanta for the second time in a row, and the 11th time overall. Winning your division, and winning your conference championship, is the main goal for Florida (and most teams) every year. So, why does it seem like most Gator fans aren’t very excited about Florida playing in the SEC title game?
The obvious answer is because the Gators are expected to lose, and lose decisively. Florida is a three touchdown underdog to the Tide. This means that the Gators aren’t expected to hang around with Alabama, as they believe they can, and that they aren’t anticipated to even be competitive. There are reasons for that, beyond the Gators’ offensive woes and mounting injuries, which I will touch on in a moment.
Alabama is formidable, as all Nick Saban Alabama teams have been, but this group might be one of the best, if not the best, Crimson Tide teams in a long time. The article linked in the previous sentence notes that Alabama’s current S&P+ percentile rating is 99.8 percent, and that FiveThirtyEight’s Elo ratings have the Tide as the second best team of the AP poll era, behind 1995 Nebraska - a mark which they are close to topping. But, also noted, is that almost every team in college football loses. Someone beating this terrifying Tide team is not out of the realm of possibility.
Alabama has not allowed an opponent to score a touchdown since a week before Halloween, and has held eight of its 12 opponents this season to 10 points or fewer. And while we don’t know what strategy the Gators will employ to tackle the Tide’s menacing and dominant defense, or how successful Florida’s injury decimated defense will be in stopping Alabama’s offense - which averages 39.4 points per game and is graded in the top-10 of S&P+, we know it will be an uphill battle.
Speaking of Florida’s offense, the Gators have averaged less than 15 points per game over the last month. They’ve also turned the ball over seven times and only scored three touchdowns in that same span. Florida’s defense has had some strong showings this season but the Gators are bringing an injury riddled group to Atlanta. Would-be starters Jordan Sherit, Cameron Dillard, Alex Anzalone, and Marcus Maye are out. Duke Dawson is likely to be out as well, along with Bryan Cox, Nick Washington, and Jeawon Taylor. The depth chart at safety only consists of true freshman Chauncey Gardner, Marcell Harris, and Garrett Stephens - who started his career with the Gators as a walk-on. Others are questionable as well, including C’yontai Lewis. Several Gators - Martez Ivey, Jarrad Davis, Daniel McMillian, and Ahmad Fulwood - are going to try and give it a go, but won’t be at full strength, and may be limited in playing time.
But what I think adds to the title game malaise some are experiencing is that many Gator fans are dreading a repeat of Florida’s 2015 late season skid. The Gators also won the SEC East last year. That Florida team only dropped one game in the regular season before being nearly shut-out at home by FSU. After that defeat, Florida tussled with, and eventually succumbed to, the eventual national champions in the SEC Championship Game, and was crushed by Michigan in their bowl game.
And yet, the Gators will show up tomorrow, and will face Alabama in Atlanta for the second year in a row. How excited are you for that? Are you going to be upset if Florida loses, or are you anticipating it? What are your feelings about tomorrow’s game, and its potential outcome? Tell us in the comments!