Originally created 09/29/05

Alabama-Florida game has a championship look



ATLANTA - History gives Saturday's Florida-Alabama game a Southeastern Conference championship game look.

Both teams are ranked, both teams are unbeaten and both teams have a pretty good history of making it to the SEC title game, an event that began in 1992 with Alabama beating Florida.

The Gators and Crimson Tide have met five times in the league title match with Florida winning three. Of the 13 SEC title games so far, Florida has played in seven, winning five; Alabama five, all against the Gators.

Could this be just the first of two meetings between the teams this season. It could if each wins its division. Florida got a leg up on the East when it beat Tennessee and Alabama got help from the Vols earlier this week when Tennessee overcame a 21-0 deficit to beat West favorite LSU.

Both teams are led by veteran quarterbacks - junior Chris Leak for the Gators and senior Brodie Croyle for the Crimson Tide.

Leak is closing in on the Florida record for consecutive passes without an interception. His total stands at 114, seven shy of the school mark held by former Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel. He is averaging 259 yards per game, slightly better than Croyle's 207 average.

Kenneth Darby gives the Tide the SEC's top running back, averaging 103 yards per game. He is the only player in the conference to top the 100-yard mark on average.

At least one Florida player doesn't expect much of a challenge from the Tide.

Deensive end Jeremy Mincey said Tennessee, which lost to the Gators 17-7, has more talent than the Tide.

"Tennessee's (offensive line) was big and athletic and we came out and played them pretty good," Mincey said. "We were a couple of mistakes from beating the crap out of them. We were a couple of missed assignments from beating them pretty bad. The funny thing is we're going to get better and better. The way our defense has played the last four weeks, anything is possible. It could be a blowout or just a regular victory."

The Gators are favored by 3½ points, not exactly a blowout, which this won't be. Label this one an upset special. Alabama 17-14.

Elsewhere around the SEC this weekend, with Arkansas, No. 7 Georgia and Kentucky having open dates:

South Carolina (plus 13½) at Auburn: It will take a little time for Steve Spurrier to get the kind of players he had running his Fun 'N Gun attack at Florida when the Gators dominated the SEC. Auburn has won 10 consecutive SEC regular season games and holds a 4-1-1 record against the Gamecocks. Spurrier was 10-3 against the Tigers while at Florida. He won't get his 11th victory over the Tigers this time. Auburn 31-14.

No. 4 LSU (minus 14½) at Mississippi State: The Tigers will try to rebound from blowing a 21-point lead against Tennessee in a Hurricane Rita-delayed game played on Monday night. State has had its troubles in the series against LSU, having won only one of the last 13 meetings - 17-16 in Starkville in 1999. LSU 28-10.

Mississippi (plus 21) at No. 10 Tennessee: The Rebels have been pretty successful against SEC East foes, winning eight of their last 11 meetings. One of those loses came last year when the Vols extended their winning streak in the series to 11 games. Rick Clausen is back on top in the quarterback shuffle after leading the Vols to a comeback victory over LSU on Monday night. Tennessee 28-10.

Middle Tennessee (plus 15½) at Vanderbilt: The last time the Commodores started a season with five consecutive victories Red Sanders was the coach, Joe Atkinson was the team captain and Jack Jenkins was named the most valuable player in the SEC. That was more than six decades ago - 1941 to be exact. It will happen again in 2005 when Jay Cutler leads Bobby Johnson's 'Dores over the Blue Raiders. Vanderbilt 31-10.

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Last week's totals: 8-0 straight, 6-2 vs. spread; for year: 22-4 straight, 15-9 vs. spread.