For the Florida Gators, pre-season is over and it's time to work your way through the SEC gauntlet. The Gators will face #3 Alabama before travelling to face #1 LSU and defending national champion Auburn.
Without question, if the Gators survive the next three games they can be considered a big time candidate to win it all.
Before we even entertain those thoughts about the Gators, we need to see how Florida handles their first major test of 2011.
Records: #12 Florida Gators (4-0, 2-0 in SEC), #3 Alabama Crimson Tide (4-0, 1-0 in SEC)
Series: Alabama leads 21-14
Current Streak: Alabama has won the last two meetings.
Last Meeting: Alabama 31, Florida 6
Florida Gators Passing Game vs. Alabama Crimson Tide Pass Defense
Florida Quarterback John Brantley will never make Gator fans forget Tim Tebow, but he is adapting well to the offense of coordinator Charlie Weis. Brantley has 4 touchdown passes, 2 ints and has thrown for 752 yards. The Gators leading receiver is running back Chris Rainey, whose big play ability has been a huge difference for Florida this season.
The Gators will face a challenge with the Alabama defense. The Tide have surrendered the 11th least yards in the country (138.25 yards per game). Bama's defense has forced 4 interceptions and sacked the quarterback 4 times. Nick Gentry leads the Tide with 1.5 sacks, while seniors DeQuan Menzie and Mark Barron.
Florida Running Game vs. Alabama Run Defense
The classic cliche is apropos here - the unstoppable force versus the immovable object. The Gators trinity of running backs Chris Rainey, Jeff Demps and Trey Burton have terrorized opposing defenses to the tune of 259 yards a game and 12 touchdowns.
Alabama counters with the fourth best run defense in the country, giving up just 45.7 yards a game on the ground. Junior LB Don'ta Hightower leads the Tide with 25 tackles and 4.5 TFL. Senior LB Courtney Upshaw adds another 4.5 TFLs, a half sack and a team high 5 QB hits.
Alabama Crimson Tide Passing Attack vs. Florida Gators Pass Defense
Like the Gators, Alabama brings into the game a pedestrian passing game. With no Julio Jones in their arsenal, Alabama is led by Marquis Maze, who has 20 receptions for 226 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore QB AJ McCarron's numbers are nearly identical to Florida's John Brantley.
Like Brantley, he'll be facing a formidable Florida defense that has held opposing passing games to 175.2 yards per game. The Gators have 9 sacks and 4 interceptions on the season. Florida's defensive line is led by Robert Powell's 2 sacks while safety Mark Elam has 2 picks.
Alabama Running Game vs. Florida Run Defense
The Gators have their hands full in trying to shutdown running back Trent Richardson. Richardson ranks second in the SEC in rushing with 441 yards, and ran for 126 yards on 17 carries in last week's 38-14 win over Arkansas. Richardson has found the end zone 8 times. Like the Gators' offense, Richardson isn't a solo act as sophomores Eddie Lacy and Jalston Fowler have each contributed.
The Gators counter with one of the best run defenses in the country. Florida is surrendering just 56.4 yards a game. Linebacker James Bostic leads the team with 26 tackles and 4tfls.
Alabama kicker Jeremy Shelley is 7-of-9 with a long of 37 yards. Cody Mandell is averaging about 38 yards a punt. Maze is Alabama's primary kick and punt returner and he boasts outstanding averages of 16.8 and 29.5 with punt and kickoff returns respectively.
Florida kicker Caleb Sturgis is perfect on the year in 11 attempts including a long of 51 yards. Punter David Lerner averaged 35.6 per punt. Andre Dubose is the 2010 kick returner of the year while Chris Rainey is averaging 14 yards a punt return.
Nick Saban is in his 5th year at Alabama. He's amased a record of 47-11and has won one National Championship wiht the Tide (he also won the National Championship at Alabama).
Will Muschamp is in his first year at Florida and has a record of 4-0.
Outlook: I've wrestled with this one a couple weeks but in the end there's one thing that stood out between these two football teams. Alabama has been tested, Florida hasn't. The Tide have defeated two ranked teams by double digit margins, Florida's feasted on four patsies.
Alabama and Florida are pretty evenly matched and this game likely will be decided by turnovers and penalties, I find it more likely that an untested Gator team will make those game changing mistakes.
Prediction: Alabama 30, Florida 17