It’s been three years since Alabama and Florida last squared off in college football. On Saturday afternoon, the rivalry is renewed when the Crimson Tide host the Gators at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. It’s the first SEC matchup for Alabama, and the second for Florida in 2014, with both schools boasting undefeated records.
Alabama enters the contest ranked No.2 in the USA Today Coaches Poll, but No.3 in the AP Top 25. They were surpassed by Oregon after the Ducks beat Michigan State in their second game of the season.
Florida isn’t ranked, but they present Alabama with their toughest test of the season thus far. The Crimson Tide outscored Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss 93-12 in the last two games, but they were favored by more than 40 points in each contest. Alabama beat West Virginia by 10 points in the season opener.
The Gators faced their first real competition this past weekend, following their win over Eastern Michigan in the season opener. At home, Will Muschamp's squad barely escaped against Kentucky with a victory, needing three overtimes to do so. It was Florida’s first win since Oct. 5 of last year, which they followed up with seven straight losses to end the 2013 season.
Muschamp goes head-to-head with Nick Saban, whom he coached under with LSU and the Miami Dolphins, for just the second time. In their only meeting, Alabama cruised to a 38-10 victory in Gainesville in 2011.
The Tide's quarterback situation appears to be strongly leaning in favor of Blake Sims. The fifth-year senior separated himself against Southern Miss, completing 12-of-17 passes for touchdowns, while adding 46 yards on the ground and a rushing touchdown. Jake Coker completed five passes for 46 yards and no scores against Southern Miss. The junior completed 15 passes for 202 yards against Florida Atlantic.
The biggest challenge for Florida might be containing Amari Cooper. The star wide receiver leads the nation with 33 receptions. He has already totaled 454 yards and two touchdowns this season.
“He’s a guy that can stretch the field vertically,” Muschamp said on Monday. “They do a nice job in the run game of getting the ball to him in a lot of what I call quick situation, of seeing a bad box, getting it out to him on the perimeter, creating some one-on-ones. They move him around a little bit and we’ve got to make sure we identify him and know where he is. He’s been targeted a bunch in their first three games, so there’s no question he’s a playmaker.”
In two games, Florida’s Demarcus Robinson has been about as good as Cooper. He’s totaled 339 receiving yards, including 15 catches for 216 yards and two scores against Kentucky.
A Floria victory would likely earn the Gators a spot in the Top 25, and perhaps make them favorites to win the SEC East. South Carolina and Georgia entered the season as frontrunners to win the division, but both have one conference loss.
The Gators haven’t been given much of a chance to pull off the upset. While the point spread is nothing like that of the Crimson Tide’s last two games, the betting odds at Las Vegas casinos still have Alabama favored by 14.5 points.
Prediction: Alabama might be the best team in the country, and Florida barely escaped one of the worst teams in the conference. Jeff Driskel might help the Gators find their way into the end zone a few times, but Cooper and T.J. Yeldon lead a talented group of playmakers that should be difficult to contain.
Predicted Score: Alabama over Florida, 38-17