Most outside program counting Gators out Saturday


Coach Nick Saban, left, and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin give top-ranked Alabama an advantage against most teams. The Las Vegas oddsmakers agree, picking the Crimson Tide to roll the Gators. (Gary Cosby Jr./GateHouse Media Services)

Published: Thursday, December 1, 2016 at 6:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 1, 2016 at 6:02 p.m.

The SEC Championship Game is suppose to feature the best two teams in the conference, but not many give Florida a chance against vaunted Alabama.

Facts

Saturday

Who: No. 1 Alabama (12-0) vs. No. 15 Florida (8-3)

When: 4 p.m.

Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta

TV: CBS

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850

The top-ranked Crimson Tide opened as 21.5-point favorites, as not many outside the program think the No. 15 Gators have a shot come Saturday.

But the Gators, for all their pride, swagger and prowess, have felt disrespected all season. Much of it comes from Florida’s noted failures on offense this season. And some of it comes from UF’s collapse in November last season. But some Gators feel a lot of the hate is undeserved.

“A lot of people underestimate us,” Gators defensive tackle Khairi Clark said. “(Just) because we’re the Florida Gators. I feel like everybody doesn’t like us, everybody underestimates us because we’re just us.”

Yes, the hype behind Alabama is deserved. Coach Nick Saban continually finds a way to rebuild without suffering a drop-off, and the Tide seem poised to win their 30th conference championship and are favorites to win a 16th national championship. But three-touchdown underdogs?

That feels disrespectful when you consider the Gators defense has allowed an average of just 14.6 points per game this season.

The odds makers must know something Florida’s secondary doesn’t.

“21-point underdog?,” safety Marcell Harris said. “I’ve been an underdog and we’ve come out and beat a lot of teams being underdogs, so it doesn’t really change (anything).”

That level of confidence is seemingly required to beat a team of Alabama’s magnitude. The Gators can’t arrive in Atlanta thinking they have no shot. And they can’t, despite the Crimson Tide’s unbeaten record, think of their opponent as unbeatable.

“I feel like we can beat anybody,” Harris said. “Anybody can be beat, and that’s how we play.”

Just because the Gators are confident doesn’t mean they’re na´ve, however. It will take nearly a flawless performance and game plan. And to expose Alabama, Florida’s offense has to show something it hasn’t all season.

“Consistency,” offensive lineman Tyler Jordan said. “I think we can be very consistent at times, and then other times we're very inconsistent. I think if we come out there each drive and just do our own job, know that the person next to us is going to take care of their business, we're going to be fine."

And for coach Jim McElwain, this week has been anything but consistent with the rest of the season.

He spent the earlier part of the week deflecting criticism from Gator fans that want either personnel changes or a new head coach entirely. Then came rumors that McElwain was in the running for Oregon’s vacant head coach position, which were quickly dismissed and denied.

For a week in which McElwain should be recognized as the first coach to make back-to-back SEC Championship Games in his first two seasons, the week of preparation was wrought with distractions.

Considering the underdog status and the coaching rumors, many have counted the Gators out and ruled their season over.

Yet Florida is alive, and the playing field is level come Saturday.

“We are excited,” Jordan said. “We are ready to get up to Atlanta and take care of business.”

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