The best thing for the Florida Gators about playing Alabama? They get a chance to measure themselves against the tallest tree in all of the forest, taking stock of what they have against a well-supplied roster rife with well-trained football players.
The worst thing for Florida about playing Alabama is the same thing.
This is what all the clichés get used for: The heavyweight bout, the big fight feel, the showdown, the all-in, emptying the tank, pushing the pedal. This is what we’ve all been waiting for. This would be the best reason for the Championship Mode siren that Florida has had on a football field in my tenure as the manager of Alligator Army.
And yet I think Florida’s going to lose. Maybe play well, maybe acquit itself beautifully, maybe even throw a scare into Alabama — but lose.
Florida has two quarterbacks that can do good things — one of whom seems like a threat to unhinge jaws on every snap via inspiration of sheer incredulity — and good players around them. It has good coaches, no matter what everyone on Twitter thinks of Todd Grantham or John Hevesy on any given day. It will have a seemingly demented crowd on its side for this game, one that will make The Swamp a steamy, seething cauldron of humanity that might give even Alabama’s well-traveled bunch some moments of doubt.
Alabama’s favored by two touchdowns — on the road — for good reasons.
Florida has pushed around two foes that consider convincing players who would never sniff an Alabama offer to come to their programs feats of recruiting prowess. It has made flavorful showings of vanilla offense against those overmatched squads, but also seen Emory Jones malfunction more than a few times; Anthony Richardson, for all his brimming potential, is still so inexperienced that playing him extensively against Alabama might be malpractice. Its defense has largely minimized big plays and come through in certain situations, but has also given up significant yardage and made mistakes that have not proven massively debilitating thanks to the opposing offenses erring in their own right.
Alabama broke Miami — today seen flailing against Michigan State — and has perhaps returned from a season among the best in college football history as a team only a half-step slower than last year’s juggernaut.
I’ve written a lot about the difference between hope and faith for fans in this space, and Tim Tebow — naturally — being the only person on ESPN’s College GameDay or the SEC Network’s SEC Nation to pick the Gators to win today has me thinking about it anew. Hope, I think, should be eternal or close to it for fans; hope is the lifeblood of why any fan turns on any game on any day and roots, because hope does not need rationality to survive. If a team is entirely hopeless, and its fans are entirely hopeless, the whole system has failed.
But faith is hope plus belief, hope plus reasoning or a hunch or a tip. Faith is knowing that Tebow would bull through defenders or that no one could touch Percy Harvin or that Steve Spurrier wouldn’t let Danny Wuerffel wince at the echo of the whistle twice in six weeks.
Hope is what I’ll have forever. Faith is what Florida is looking to restore in fans before games like these by reaching parity with the best versions of the best programs — Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Ohio State, Oklahoma — in college football.
Faith is on the line today. Hope is what keeps fans roaring no matter what.
I think Florida can do enough to instill a little faith. But I’m not worried about my hope.
Here are 10 predictions for Florida’s meeting with Alabama:
- Emory Jones will throw more passes than Anthony Richardson.
- Richardson will account for multiple plays of more than 20 yards.
- Florida will not gain 200 rushing yards.
- Florida will score more than three offensive touchdowns.
- No Florida receiver will top 100 receiving yards.
- Florida’s defense will force a three-and-out in the first half.
- Florida will allow more yards per carry than Alabama does.
- Florida will not force more than one turnover on defense.
- Florida will lead at some point in the game.
- Alabama will defeat Florida, 38-24.