Championship Week: Previewing The Conference Championship Games




in Atlanta

Kickoff: 4 p.m. ET/1 p.m. PT


Las Vegas Line: Alabama -17.5

There isn’t a more lopsided Championship Weekend matchup, at least on paper, than Alabama-Florida. That means if December is truly college football’s answer to basketball’s March, we can expect the Gators to play their most inspired football of the season and pull off a shocker.

But I wouldn’t bank on it.

Florida’s defense is outstanding, and capable of dragging Alabama into the mud for some good, old-fashioned Gator rasslin’.

It’s been my mantra regarding Alabama all season, and nothing has changed my stance. If the Crimson Tide have a weakness that can keep them from a national championship, it’s the play of Jake Coker at quarterback. Florida’s dynamic defensive front, led by Alex McCallister, must find ways to get at Coker and force bad decisions. Standout Gators cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III will do all in his power to lock down wide receiver Calvin Ridley, Coker’s security blanket in the passing game.

As good as Florida is defensively, however, Alabama’s defense is just a little bit better. The Crimson Tide front seven is the best in the nation. Lined up opposite Florida’s shaky offensive line, Saturday might well be the most epic march of elephants since Hannibal crossed the Alps. Treon Harris is likely to be under constant duress from Jonathan Allen and Tim Williams, while A’Shawn Robinson and Reggie Ragland promise to plug any running lanes that open for 977-yard rusher Kelvin Taylor.

Florida won’t be able to mount an offensive attack, which means its defense will be forced onto the field after short rests. Speaking of stampeding elephants, it won’t take long for Heisman front-runner Derrick Henry to break through.

Henry’s 2015 ranks among the most impressive individual campaigns for a running back in recent years, in part because Alabama’s quarterback play has been shaky. Henry has, at times, been a one-man offense, but the Tide haven’t suffered as a result.

He’ll do so once more in an SEC Championship that functions as little more than a Playoff coronation for the Crimson Tide, and a Heisman red-carpet ceremony for Henry.