GAINESVILLE -- OK, things didn't physical, but I'm pretty sure there are a few Bammers out there today who would love nothing more than to tear my ears off. Oh, well. That's the price you pay when you work for The Miami Herald and someone asks you if people in South Florida still dislike Nick Saban. LINK! (No clue when my questions will be posted. Just keep checking, I guess.)
Here are the five questions I posed to Gentry Estes of the Mobile Press-Register. Gentry is Mobile's Alabama beat writer and does fine work, darn fine work. Full disclosure, Gentry and I went to the same high school in good ol' Irondale, Ala., but we didn't get to know each other until last season around this time.
GATOR CLAUSE: Getting pressure on Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy is the key to limiting Julio Jones. Little has change along Florida's defensive line since last season. (Suspended DE Carlos Dunlap has split time his entire career.) How does Alabama's offensive line this season compare to the one last year?
GENTRY ESTES: First off, last year's line was better. How could it not be with two NFL players on there and the Outland winner at left tackle? But Alabama assistant Joe Pendry deserves credit for taking a patchwork group of replacements and making a cohesive line good enough to produce a Heisman candidate running back. The Tide has played to this line's strengths. While last year's offense used more of direct running style, this year's line works more on the edges, pulling and trapping and using the fact that the current linemen -- while not as physical -- are a bit more athletic than the previous group.
Pass protection has been solid much of the season, but left tackle James Carpenter -- a JUCO transfer who committed to Iowa State out of high school -- is not Andre Smith over there. Auburn whipped him a time or two. And even without Dunlap, Florida certainly has the weapons to give him a hard time. Senior Mike Johnson is the best of the bunch at left guard, but he's been slowed recently by a few nagging injuries. This should definitely be a concern for Alabama, especially since the line struggled at Auburn. It's hard to see the Tide beating the Gators if that doesn't improve.
GATOR CLAUSE: Trent Richardson is a great back. Will Alabama lose anything if Mark Ingram is limited?
GENTRY ESTES: I don't think so. I've been saying all season that Ingram could win the Heisman and he might no be the most talented back on his own team. Richardson is a legitimate stud. He's fast enough to break one and strong enough to run through tackles. He has also improved over the course o the season in the little ares like pass protection. He's got fresher legs at this point in the season, and I think that was evident against Auburn. Florida will wind up seeing a lot of Richardson, whether Ingram is 100 percent or not.
GATOR CLAUSE: Will Nick Saban's head explode if he loses to Urban Meyer again?
GENTRY ESTES: Saban will explode if Alabama doesn't cover the opening kickoff properly, so that's guaranteed, win or lose. But there's no question that last year's SEC title game stung him and the team. It was different because, unlike the Utah game, Alabama couldn't really point to anything it did wrong to lose. The Tide did what it wanted to do in that game, which was force Tebow to beat them through the air. It's just that Tebow was good enough to do it anyway. A lot has been made about Alabama's inability to finish in the fourth quarter, but I'm not buying that. I think that was coaching rhetoric to get guys motivated this year. Truth of the matter is Alabama was beaten last year by one o the college game's all-time great quarterbacks, who made plays when they needed to be made.
GATOR CLAUSE: Alabama safety Mark Barron is one of my favorite players in the SEC. Is there something about him I don't know about that would make me like him even more?
GENTRY ESTES: Barron is a big-time athlete, who played about every position someone can play in high school. If he gets a pick, he's a very dangerous return guy. What you may not know is that he is extremely soft-spoken and shy of the field. He gave very few interviews as a recruit, and prep coaches predicted that he wouldn't talk at all when he got to Alabama. To his credit, Barron has met with the media on multiple occasions in Tuscaloosa and done well with it.
GATOR CLAUSE: Rolando McClain will be the best defender in the Georgia Dome on Saturday. Who wins in the open field, McClain or Tebow?
GENTRY ESTES: We'll find out soon enough, I guess. I know Tebow's the real deal, but so is McClain. Hes the throwback linebacker that's tough as nails and loves contact. But what separates McClain from most is his intelligence. In my opinion, he's the MVP of Alabama's team and it's really not that close.