GAINESVILLE -- Big game this weekend up in the ATL. Stubhub expects No.2 Florida (11-1) vs. No.1 Alabama (12-0) to rank in its top 10 list for ridiculously inflated ticket prices. And that's not top 10 for a college football game. That's top 10 regardless of sport. Only Super Bowl and World Series tickets have gone for more. Club seats in the Georgia Dome are pushing $1,300.
Gator Clause isn't leaving Gainesville until Friday night, so I'll have plenty of time to bloggy blog until then. Something a bit odd I just realized. While interning for The Birmingham News, I covered Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson when his Hoover Bucs won a high school state championship. As a preps writer for The Herald, I covered Tebow's state championship in 2005. Pretty cool, huh?
Both Wilson's and Tebow's state championship wins were blowouts by the fourth quarter. The only difference in the two state championship games -- and this has something to do with my officially licensed prediction of the game -- Tebow played nose guard in the fourth quarter for Ponte Vedra Beach Nease. So, that whole idea about UA's rough and rugged style of play being too much for UF's dainty little spread-option offense ... it's nonsense. UF 38, UA 18
Saturday's game will be much more than a contest between Tebow and Wilson, of course. There will be plenty of talented players on the Georgia Dome's artificial turf and we're here to highlight a few important match-ups because, well, like y'all, I'm pretty excited about watching this game...
11) UA cornerback Javier Arenas vs. UF receiver Percy Harvin: Assuming Harvin plays more than a decoy role (I doubt it), this could be one of the best one-on-one match-ups on Saturday. Harvin will play receiver if he does anything. Arenas is looking forward to the challenge. When asked about Harvin this week, Arenas said he expects Harvin will play.
10) UA receiver Julio Jones vs. UF cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Joe Haden: Jones and Jenkins know a little about each other going in. They squared off in a high school all-star game over the summer. Jenkins has three interceptions and leads the team with 10 pass break-ups. Haden is one of the nation's brightest up-and-comers. He's second on the team with 69 tackles and eight pass break-ups. He also has two interceptions. Jones leads UA with 46 receptions for 723 yards and four touchdowns. He's the Crimson Tide's only downfield threat. UA tight end Nick Walker is second on the team in receptions (26 for 262 yards, two TDs).
9) UF quarterback Tim Tebow vs. UA linebacker Rolando McClain: In this corner, the Mac Attack (team-high 82 tackles, 11 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, three sacks), standing six feet and four inches and weighing in at 249 pounds. Wearing a crimson hat and menacing scowl, Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain. And in this corner, The Chosen One (tougher to take down than the Berlin Wall, 12 rushing touchdowns, third-down conversation machine, 43 career rushing touchdowns), standing six feet and three inches and weighing in at 240 pounds, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and heavyweight CHAMPION OF THE WORLD, Tim Tebow.
8) UF offensive coordinator Dan Mullen vs. UA defensive genius Nick Saban: Florida's offense leads the Southeastern Conference in scoring. The Gators are averaging 46.3 points per game. (That's a big number.) Alabama's defense leads the league in points allowed. The Crimson Tide is allowing 11.5 points per game. (That's a small number.) Florida's offense leads the SEC in total yards (449.4 yards per game). Alabama's defense leads the league in total yards allowed (248.5 yards per game). Something's gotta give, right?
7) UA tackle Andre Smith vs. UF end Carlos Dunlap: NFL scouts (and me) will be watching this match-up. Many consider Smith the best offensive lineman in the nation. Dunlap leads the Gators with nine sacks and is peaking at the perfect time. Sounds a lot like a young Derrick Harvey.
6) UF center Maurkice Pouncey vs. UA nose guard Terrence Cody: Cody is the guy that allows UA linebacker Rolando McClain to fill the gaps and make the tackles. UF leads the SEC in rushing yards per game (237.1 yards per game) and Cody will do his best to limit UF on first down. Cody (6-5, 365 pounds) will be highly motivated for this game. He's from Fort Myers. Pouncey is one of the best young offensive linemen in the country (along with his brother, of course). Maurkice and guard Mike Pouncey will also be highly motivated for this game. The Pounceys' stepfather, Robert Webster, who was severely injured (lost a leg) at work in Lakeland last week, is expected to make the trip to Atlanta for the game.
5) UA tight end Nick Walker vs. UF strong safety Ahmad Black: Here's a match-up that will draw my attention. Nick Saban loves to get his tight ends involved and UA will be looking to isolate Walker (6-5, 248-pound senior) in one-on-one coverage against Black, UF's undersized (5-9, 185 pounds) strong safety. Walker is Alabama's second-leading receiver (26 receptions for 262 yards). Black (What a story this kid has turned out to be, right.) leads UF in interceptions with six. Another thing: Getting Black out of the run-box will be one of the top priorities for UA quarterback John Parker Wilson. In the words of Black, "Pick party!"
4) UF linebacker Brandon Spikes vs. UA running backs Glen Coffee, Mark Ingram and Roy Upchurch: UF linebacker Brandon Spikes leads the Gators in tackles (80) and is a finalist for the Nagurski Award. UA's trio of power running backs are all downhill runners. Coffee is averaging 6.2 yards per carry (102.9 yards per game). Ingram and Upchurh are just as tough to take down. Expect some big collisions, folks.
3) UA's sure hands vs. UF's defensive thievery: UF has forced 21 turnovers during its current eight-game winning streak and converted 16 of those turnovers into touchdowns. Alabama has lost nine fumbles this season and quarterback John Parker Wilson has only thrown five interceptions. Alabama cannot afford to turn the ball over.
2) UF nose tackle Lawrence Marsh vs. UA center Antoine Caldwell: The importance of this match-up cannot be overstated. Marsh, recovering from a sprained medial-collateral ligament, has been UF's most reliable interior defensive lineman. Caldwell is a finalist for the Remington Award, given to the nation's best center, and helps pave the way for Alabama's between-the-tackles running game. UA is second in the SEC in rushing yards per game (201.5 yards). Florida is third in the league in rush defense (102.8 yards per game).
1) UF quarterback Tim Tebow vs. UA nose guard Terrence Cody: UF leads the SEC in third-down conversions (48.9 percent). UA leads the league in third-down conversion defense (25 percent). Another interesting statistical comparison: UA leads the SEC in fourth-down conversion (8 of 9, 88.9 percent). UF's defense leads the league in denying teams on fourth down (8 of 21, 38.1 percent).
1A) UA strong-side linebacker Cory Reamer vs. UF scatbacks Jeffery Demps and Chris Rainey: What!? All this hard work in the middle of the night and this is your No.1 match-up of the biggest game in SEC history? I can hear you now, "Goodman, you're an idiot." Well, hear me out first before you leave a snarky comment. UA is allowing an SEC-best 73.6 rushing yards per game, but the Crimson Tide hasn't faced a running game quite like Florida's. That's where Reamer comes in. This guy is fast. Reamer (6-4, 218 pounds, another Hoover High guy) was actually a defensive back in high school. UF leads the SEC in rushing (237.1 yards per game) on account of the team's speedy backfield. With Percy Harvin likely injured, the bulk of UF's rushing responsibilities will fall to Jeffery Demps and Chris Rainey, who, gulp, limped off the practice field on Thursday after reaggrevating his groin pull. Demps and Rainey like to get outside. Reamer will be waiting.