The 2nd ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (11-1, 7-1) enter the SEC Championship game against the 18th ranked Florida Gators (10-2, 7-1) as an 18-point favorite. That spread is the second highest ever in SEC Championship game history behind the 1995 meeting between Florida and Arkansas where the Gators were 24-point favorites.
While bettors pay attention to that line, the Crimson Tide are more focused on trying to execute against a Florida defensive line which is regarded as one of the best in the country. Senior center Ryan Kelly believes they’ll have their work cut out for them against a unit that averages over seven tackles for loss and three sacks per game.
The Alabama offense has rolled on the ground over the past month behind junior running back Derrick Henry. Henry has totaled over 200 yards in three out of the last four games with the lone game being against Charleston Southern where he only received nine carries. Florida enters the game second in the conference in in rushing defense allowing just over 111 yards per game which includes two matchups versus the top two running backs in the country in rushing yards per game in Leonard Fournette (158.3 YPG) and Dalvin Cook (150.7 YPG). Henry expects it to be tough sledding against the Gators.
Perhaps the reason behind the high betting line is the overwhelming belief that the Alabama defense will be able to shut down a reeling Florida offense. The Crimson Tide rank first in five defensive categories in the SEC including scoring defense allowing just over 14 points per game. With Florida’s offense struggling recently, highlighted by an offensive shutout last week versus Florida State, many question their capabilities of being able to pull the upset.
The Gators might take a page out of the Alabama offensive playbook and look to their junior running back as well for some help moving the ball. Kelvin Taylor is 23 yards shy of 1,000 on the year and has 13 touchdowns. Taylor has run for over 100 yards in four out of the last five games and Alabama head coach Nick Saban discusses his thoughts on Taylor from when he was in high school and how he has exceeded his expectations.
One man who will be tasked with slowing down Taylor and the rest of the Florida offense will be senior linebacker Reggie Ragland. Ragland leads the charge on defense for Alabama as he has totaled 90 tackles this season, 32 more than the next closest defender. Despite his individual success, he is quick to credit the whole front seven for the defense’s performance and says he expected it coming in to the season.
No matter what the final betting line might be before kickoff on Saturday, the scoreboard in the Georgia Dome will start with zeros next to both Alabama and Florida. After that, it’s up to the players in crimson and white and orange and blue to decide just how accurate those guys out in the desert were in predicting this game. Kickoff between the Crimson Tide and the Gators will be at 4:00 on Saturday afternoon in Atlanta.