Thursday, December 31, 2009

LSU-Penn State Prediction: Capital One Bowl Preview

LSU Tigers vs Penn State Nittany Lions
January 1 1PM
Orlando, FL

The Capital One features two teams who thought they would be in the BCS when the season began. But both LSU and Penn State suffered losses to their conferences elite and each is looking for a marquee win to finish the season.

For once Penn State's coaching staff does not have all the rumors surrounding their program as the season ends.

LSU has had rumors swirling about DC John Chavis taking the same position at Georgia. Chavis signed a raise today according to the AJC to "end" those rumors. Will the confusion surrounding LSU have any effect on their coaches or players?

Both defenses were very stout during the season, but the offenses faltered in each of their losses. Penn State combined for just 17 points against Ohio State and Iowa while LSU averaged just 14 in three losses.

The Tigers were out gained on average during the season by 16 yards per game, but helped make it up by ranking 21st in turnover margin.

LSU's sometimes stagnant offense has been hit hard especially at running back where the top three players are expected to miss the bowl game. That puts a lot of pressure on the shoulders of QB Jordan Jefferson. Can he produce like he did in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl last year?

I think Penn State's defense will frustrate Jefferson with a pass defense that allows under 200 yards per game and a rush defense allowing under 100 yards per game.

Les Miles' is 5-2 in bowl games, including a 4-0 record at LSU, but he is going up against Penn State who has the second best winning percentage all time in bowl games with a minimum of ten bowls.

Nittany Lion Senior QB Daryll Clark has a good enough game to get his team ahead and let his defense win it in the fourth quarter with some key stops.

Penn State 24 LSU 17

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Florida State-West Virginia Prediction: Gator Bowl Preview

Florida State Seminoles vs West Virginia Mountaineers
January 1 1PM
Jacksonville, FL

Bobby Bowden will grace the FSU side line for the final time on New Years Day looking across the field at the team he left the Seminoles for, the West Virginia Mountaineers.

FSU comes into their 28th straight bowl trying to avoid their first losing season since 1976, Bowden's first in Tallahassee.
West Virginia has some experience playing in emotional games as they were the first team to play UConn after the death of Jasper Howard. The Mountaineers pulled that game out late in come from behind fashion.

Bill Stewart has surprised me with his ability to keep West Virginia at a fairly high level after Rich Rod left two seasons ago. His Mountaineer club is at 9-3 and had the advantage on paper over the .500 'Noles.

West Virginia is much better at running the ball and stopping the run than FSU. When you can run the ball and the other team can't stop it, it wears on a team mentally and FSU is already mentally worn out with all the controversy surrounding Bowden's exit.

And in terms of similar opponents the Seminoles had a very tough time stopping Georgia Tech who runs a similar offense to West Virginia.

For FSU to pull off the upset, it has to be on pure emotion because they don't match up well on paper. I know the players want to send Bowden out a winner, but with Bowden's forced retirement is he in it enough to inspire his team?

I don't think so.

West Virginia 30 Florida State 23

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Auburn-Northwestern Prediction: Outback Bowl Preview

Northwestern Wildcats vs Auburn Tigers
January 1 11 AM ET
Tampa, FL

Two teams fighting for respect, but different kinds, meet in the first game of 2010.

The Auburn Tigers are fighting for respect that they belong here on New Years Day despite a 7-5 record that included a 2-5 finish after opening the season 5-0. Auburn was selected here instead of other teams like Kentucky and Georgia who both beat the Tigers this season.

Northwestern wants to show the SEC and the nation they can play football with the big boys. The Wildcats closed the season with three straight wins including two wins over Wisconsin and Iowa to get to 8-4.

But that 8-4 record may be a little misleading when Northwestern played the 88th toughest schedule in the nation according to the Sagarin ratings. Auburn played the 22nd toughest.

The Wildcats do what you would expect they would do consider their high academic standards. They take care of the ball ranking 31st nationally in turnover margin and are 34th in penalties per game.
Where Northwestern may steal this game is with a critical coaching error in the fourth quarter. Pat Fitzgerald is one of the up and coming coaches in the nation and almost always has his teams ready to play. I am not a big Gene Chizik fan by any means, especially in crunch time.

But I like Auburn in this game because of their ability to run the ball and their size and speed advantage on the line of scrimmage. The Tigers out gained Alabama on the ground in their last game and for the season Auburn is averaging 214 yards per game.

The Tigers defense also matches up well with Northwestern considering Auburn ranks 29th nationally at under 200 yards per game allowed.

Auburn 28 Northwestern 24

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tennessee-Virginia Tech Prediction: Chick-Fil-A Bowl Preview

Tennessee Volunteers vs Virginia Tech Hokies
December 31 7:30 PM ET
Atlanta, GA

The ACC and SEC match up one last time this season on New Years Eve when Tennessee collides with Virginia Tech in the Chick Fil-A-Bowl.

Clemson already beat Kentucky to give the ACC the first match up, but the Hokies will need to win also to restore some conference pride after rivalry weekend was a clean sweep for the SEC.

The Hokies are making their third trip to Atlanta this season and hope it is better than the first two with losses to Alabama and Georgia Tech.

Va. Tech is also playing for a sixth consecutive 10 win seasons that would keep pace with Texas as the longest such streak in the nation.

The Volunteers are hoping to make many more trips to Atlanta in future years under Lane Kiffin, but they hope it is a little earlier in December and with a BCS spot on the line in the SEC Championship Game.

Still, Vol fans have to consider this season a success with the way they played Alabama and Florida after some predicted utter failure because of their brash first year head coach.

The Chick Fil-A-Bowl will feature two of the best defensive minds in college football: Monte Kiffin of Tennessee and Bud Foster of Virginia Tech. Foster recently turned down Georgia to stay in Blacksburg, while Kiffin left the NFL to coach with his son this season.

The biggest question I have is what can Monte Kiffin can cook up with a month’s preparation to slow down the Virginia Tech running game averaging over 200 yards per game.

Redshirt freshman Ryan Williams led the ACC in rushing this season and really came on at the end of the season for Frank Beamer’s club.

Can Tennessee slow down the Hokie ground game?

But really that question could be turned around to Virginia Tech also. This season has been an unusual one for the Hokie defense which ranks just 54th in rush defense.

In all three of their losses, VT has allowed the opposition to run the ball with relative ease, especially in the second

The Vols are a run first team led by 1,300 yard rusher Montario Hardesty and freshman Bryce Brown.

So really I think this game comes down to who can run the ball and who can stop the run. The Hokies rank better in both of those categories and they also rank better in turnover margin, another important stat when teams look even on paper.

I will take Virginia Tech to give the ACC two bowl wins over the SEC after a dismal end of the regular season. I feel fairly confident about this one too giving the Hokies 24 of my 34 bowl points.

Virginia Tech 27 Tennessee 21

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Miami vs Wisconsin Prediction: Champs Sports Bowl Preview

Miami Hurricanes vs Wisconsin Badgers
December 29
Orlando, FL

The talk of contrasting styles has centered around the Rose Bowl, but the Champs Sports Bowl between Miami and Wisconsin may be even more of one.

The Hurricanes play with fast athletes throwing the ball down field while the Badgers are big and powerful preferring to run the ball down your throat.

Miami has a chance for a 10 win season, their first since 2003 while Wisconsin is hoping to avoid a second straight loss in the Orlando to a team from Florida.

Can Miami stop Wisconsin's power attack? Well, the 'Canes rank 28th in rush defense in the nation and held another powerful rushing attack of Georgia Tech to a season low rushing output. Miami has to be careful of not letting four yard runs eat them up all game by keeping the ball away from their offense.

Can Wisconsin keep up with Miami's receivers? The Badgers defensive backs will not have seen speed like this all season. The Wisconsin defensive line will have to get pressure on Miami QB Jacory Harris and force him to get rid of the ball quickly.

The Badgers rank 65th in pass defense playing in a conference not known for airing it out. But the Badgers do rank 20th in sack an the Hurricanes are 88th in sacks allowed.

In the end, I think Miami's speed will be too much as we are watching a team that will compete for a conference and maybe a national title next year if they stay healthy. In my bowl pool, I am going with 7 points of 34 risked on a Hurricane win.
Miami 31 Wisconsin 21

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Music City Bowl Prediction: Clemson vs Kentucky

Clemson Tigers vs Kentucky Wildcats
Sunday December 27th 8:30 PM
Nashville, TN

The first of two bowl games matching up the ACC and the SEC will be the Music City Bowl where Clemson meets Kentucky in a rematch of the 2006 bowl won by the Wildcats.

Both teams are coming off losses against their arch rivals, but the Tigers have lost their last two games also losing the ACC Championship Game.

Does Clemson feel slighting for being in the Music City Bowl?

The Tigers were six minutes away from an ACC title, their first since 1991, but with the loss fell all the way to Nashville after being passed over by the Gator, Chick Fil A, and Champs Sports Bowls.

Clemson lost their two biggest games of the year at the end of the season at South Carolina and a second loss during the season to Georgia Tech in Tampa.

It will be Dabo's biggest test of his young career to get his team fired up to play in a lesser than anticipated bowl game against a school mostly known for basketball.
Can Kentucky regain continuity at the QB position?

Freshman Morgan Newton led the Wildcats to three wins but suffered an injury against Tennessee and is doubtful for the bowl game. The starter at the beginning of the season, Mike Hartline, looks like he will be ready to go battling back from a knee injury.

I personally like Randall Cobb at QB running the option, but Rich Brooks has only used that in certain situations.

The receivers and offensive line will only have a limited amount of time to re adjust back to Hartline's style.

Can CJ Spiller will his Clemson team to victory?

This is the last game for arguably one of the most dynamic players in college football over the last decade. Spiller had 233 yards rushing against Georgia Tech and would have had more total yards if the Yellow Jackets had kicked the ball to him.

Spiller is a guy UK must know where he is on the field at all times. The Wildcats have had trouble stopping the run this season giving up 183 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 100th nationally.

If I am Dabo Swinney, I ride CJ Spiller and the ground attack all game.
This is a tough one to call. Its a game I would much rather choose based on point spread alone and not who is going to win.

Clemson has the talent advantage on paper and the best player in the game by far, but I really question their motivation to be here. I would definitely take Kentucky as a seven point under dog and I will take the WIldcats straight up because of the motivation factor.

Kentucky 27 Clemson 21

11 of 34 points risked

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Emerald Bowl Prediction: USC vs Boston College

USC Trojans vs Boston College Eagles
December 26 8PM ET
San Francisco, CA

If there was ever a mismatch on paper in the bowl season, this is it. Boston College does not have more than three guys that USC heavily recruited if any, but the Eagles have a chance in this one.

Pete Carroll has been the master of motivation, but this year his team just doesn't have it. They get two beat downs of epic proportion in Trojan history and then play themselves out of the Holiday Bowl with a loss at home to Arizona.

8-4 is a territory none of the USC players ever thought they would be in.

Boston College has another year beating the expectations set in the preseason by making another run at an Atlantic Division title. And they do this with their third head coach in four seasons and a 25 year old former minor league baseball player as their QB.

What is USC's motivation in this game?

I remember watching Carroll being interviewed after the UCLA win and he talked about how they had another game next year and they love to play so they will be ready. Well it sure didn't look like it against the Wildcats.

Now USC gets to go play in the worst bowl stadium, a converted baseball field. The Trojans and Eagles will be on the same sideline! Why can't they get this game moved to Candlestick?

Anyways, does anyone really want to be here from USC?

Which QB can take care of the football?

Maybe the biggest difference with USC this year is their offense's inability to score despite piling up yards. The Trojans average nearly 350 yards per game, but under 30 points. They rank 60th in the nation in turnovers and 70th in interceptions thrown.

BC is actually worse in the turnover column, but does rank 34th in interceptions gained nationally. But their QBs have thrown 17 interceptions on the season ranking 109th in the nation.

The team that can limit the turnovers will be able to move the ball with relative ease.

Does USC stick with the run game?

The Trojans have been pretty good at running the ball this year averaging over five yard per carry and 170 yards per game. If I am Pete Carroll, I run the ball until BC stops me.

Even though the Eagles are giving up just 104 yards on the ground, I take my bets with my offensive line versus their defensive line in a power running game.

Vegas opened this game up at one of the bigger spreads at -9 for USC, but it has fallen with the news about Joe McKnight missing the game as well as three other Trojans.

I think it all comes down to how motivated USC is. If they are, they could blow the doors off BC, but if they aren't the will get beat.

I don't think USC wants to be here and that will be magnified when they see the cruddy field and stadium they are playing in; they will be dreaming of Pasadena.

I am only risking 4 points on this game because of the mismatch on paper, but I do think BC wins because they will prepare better.

Boston College 24 USC 21

4 of 34 points risked

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Independence Bowl Prediction: Georgia vs Texas A&M

Georgia Bulldogs vs Texas A&M Aggies
December 28th 5PM
Shreveport, LA

Two tradition rich programs collide in the Advocare Independence Bowl on Monday when Georgia meets Texas A&M.

Judging by their last performance this game looks like it could be a run away for UGA. The Bulldogs stunned their in state rival Georgia Tech 30-24 by running the ball for over 300 yards and holding the nation's second best rushing attack to just over 200 on the ground.

But I always go back to the motivation factor in lesser bowl games with traditionally power teams.

Was the Georgia Tech Win the pinnacle for Georgia this season?

Bulldog players went from the lowest of lows after losing to Kentucky to the highest of highs after beating Georgia Tech. But now does the team come back and prepare at a high level for a lesser bowl game against a .500 team?

Can Texas A&M take advantage of turmoil on UGA's defense?

The Bulldogs are in flux right now on the defensive side of the ball after firing three coaches, including DC Willie Martinez. The defense played better in their final three ball games, but it was not enough to keep Martinez's job.

This Aggie offense is nothing to take lightly averaging over 30 points per game and 465 yards per game.

Can Georgia limit the turnovers?

The Bulldogs rank 119th in the nation in turnover margin, but they were plus one in the win over GT and plus two in the win over Auburn two weeks before. UGA is 3-1 when even or positive in turnovers this season.

The Aggies rank 60th nationally with an even turnover margin. A&M is plus 10 in their six wins.

I think you have to be careful and not place too much emphasis on the UGA win last time out. Yes, the Yellow Jackets had lost just one game at that point, but that game was clearly UGA's best of the season and one of Ga. Tech's worst.

I think UGA will be able to run the ball with success on a defense that ranks 87th nationally against the run, but the Aggies balanced attack will also be able to move the ball on the Bulldogs.

I like Georgia in a shoot out, but closer than Vegas thinks.

Georgia 38 Texas A&M 34

3 of 34 points risked

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Meineke Car Care Bowl Preview: North Carolina vs Pitt

Meineke Car Care Bowl
December 26 4:30PM ET
Charlotte, NC

Sorry I have been out so long. Work has been busy, been sick, life called, etc. Anyways onto the bowl games.

First up for the ACC is the Meineke Car Care Bowl on Saturday when North Carolina takes on Pitt.

The Tar Heels are playing in Charlotte for the second straight season losing a nail biter to West Virginia last year. The Heels were surging towards the end of the season until a stumble at NC State in their last game.

Stumble might not be the right word for Pitt's end to the season; more like collapse. The Panthers lost to their rivals West Virginia and the next week let a big first half lead and than a late six point lead slip away with under two minutes to go against undefeated Cincinnati.

If you watched the game you saw the Pitt players sitting in the tunnel with the heads hung after wards.

Lots of times bowl games are about who is the more motivated team. All of these teams have talent and are capable of beating teams with winning records.

But you have seniors (and juniors) looking to the NFL draft, teams coming off wins or losses versus rivals, championships won or lost, and the feeling of disappointment if you are selected to a a lower tier bowl. All of these apply in this matchup.

Does Pitt want to be in Charlotte?

They were two minutes from a BCS Bowl at home against an undefeated team and let it slip away. Plus, they lost to their rival the week before. What does this game mean to them?

I think this is an important game for the Pitt program who is at a cross roads right now. They have returned to Big East prominence after years of toiling in the middle of the pack.

To win this bowl game is a chance for 10 wins and momentum going into next season when they will have one of the best backs in the nation in Dion Lewis.

Can North Carolina stop Pitt's rushing attack?

This is a battle of strength on strength as Pitt's 29th ranked rushing offense goes up against UNC's 9th ranked rush defense. Line of scrimmage determines a lot of games.

Who wins the turnover battle?

Both teams are positive in turnover margin for the season with Pitt ranking 12th nationally at plus 0.75 per game. The Panthers only have two fumbles on the season. UNC ranks 69th in fumbles gained. Turnovers will be critical in a game of evenly matched opponents.

The stats say Pitt has the better team, but I really question Pitt's desire to be at this bowl game. They can talk the talk, but very few teams walk the walk after such a disappointing end.

UNC will have a clear home crowd advantage too being so close to Charlotte. If Pitt pulls this one off, even though they are favored, I will be very impressed with Dave Wannstedt's ability to have his team rebound. I like the Tar Heels but only put five of the 34 possible points on it.

North Carolina 28 Pitt 14
5 of 34 points risked

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Florida-Alabama Preview: Can The Tide Exact Revenge On The Gators?

SEC Championship Game
Florida Gators vs Alabama Crimson Tide
Atlanta, GA

Line: Florida -5.5

It is finally here. The game every has been talking about, well, since last year. Everything worked out in college football and we have the two best teams meeting for the SEC (and maybe the BCS) Championship on Saturday in Atlanta.

You can find my keys for each team here - Alabama Keys, Florida Keys

When you have two teams so evenly matched, lots of times the game comes down to big plays. Big plays on special teams, turnovers, third down, and red zone conversions.

I do think this Florida team is not as good as they were last year. Alabama is at least as good as they were, but I don't know how much better they really are. If anything they may be deeper than they were last year.

I think you will see both teams try to take away the others' strength. So that will mean both teams will stack the box on defense and try and make the QBs pass the ball down the field. I give the edge to Alabama in being able to run the ball and stop the run, but I give Florida the edge in passing.

If there is one mismatch in this game, it is at the QB position. I am saying pretty much the same thing everyone else is saying here, but I think it is true.

I don't believe in destiny, but I do think Tebow can make a huge difference on Saturday.

Last year, Tim Tebow was very good on third down and in the red zone. If you go back and watch the highlights from last year Tebow was under duress many of those throws for touchdowns, but he made them.

I think Tebow's ability to beat the Alabama defense with his arm or his legs is the difference in the fourth quarter again.

Florida 28 Alabama 24
Alabama Covers +5.5

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Clemson-Georgia Tech Preview: ACC Championship Game Prediction

ACC Championship Game
Clemson Tigers vs Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Tampa, FL

Line: Pick

Even though both teams lost last week to their in state rivals, this game still means a lot to both of them...I think.

There is precedence of this for Georgia Tech. Back in 2006 they had a similar season, yet lost to an underwhelming (but favored) Georgia team, and then went on to lose the ACC Championship Game to Wake Forest the following week.

Can the Yellow Jackets respond better than they did three years ago? This and some other keys I asked in 4 Questions for Georgia Tech.

Clemson faces a similar predicament after a 17 point beating by South Carolina last week, a team they have beaten five of the last seven years. How will Clemson respond and what are the Tigers other keys (4 Questions For Clemson post)?

Like the SEC Championship, these two teams are very evenly matched. So much so that Vegas has installed this game as a pick'em most places.

I think this game comes down to turnovers, big plays, and who can stop the run.

Both teams will see ample film time of the offenses running the ball down the others throat last week and try to mimic that this week. The defense that steps up the best against the run gives their team a huge boost.

Big plays is another key area. Both teams had them in the last meeting (30-27 GT) and I expect to see a few more this time around.

I think if a team has an advantage coming into this game, it may be Paul Johnson's offense. Last time, Clemson did a pretty good job of containing the rushing attack not allowing a TD scoring drive.

I think the Tigers go with a similar game plan as in September, but Ga. Tech makes more adjustments seeing DC Kevin Steele's game plan for the second time.

Those adjustments, especially in the second half, are enough for Georgia Tech to pull out the win.

Georgia Tech 28 Clemson 27

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Florida: 4 Questions For The SEC Championship Game

The Florida Gators are going for a second straight SEC Championship and a third in four years. But to get that title and a spot in the BCS Championship Game, the Gators have four big questions to answer if they are to beat Alabama for a second straight year.

1. How Does Florida Gain A Mental Edge?

Florida won this game last year. They ruined Alabama's perfect season and shot at their first national title since 1992. And we know how seriously Alabama takes national championships - they got 12 of them.

You know Nick Saban has his team focused and out for revenge. Most the season they have been out of the limelight with much of the focus on the number one ranked Gators quest for a repeat and the final season for Tim Tebow.

I think Tebow has to be at an all time best from a leadership standpoint on Saturday.

2. Can Brandon James Finally Break Out?

James was a serious threat for Florida last year anytime the opponent kicked the ball.

This season, he is averaging just seven yards per punt return with no touchdowns. He has taken one kick return to the house, but that game in the first game against Charleston Southern.

If the St Augustine native who was thought to be small for FBS can give the Gators a score, it would be a huge lift for an offense that has struggled at times.
3. Can The Florida Receivers Strike Fear Down The Field?

This has been the knock on the Gators offense all year that they can't stretch the field vertically. I think this is a bit of misnomer since Florida has 21 pass plays over 25 yards on the season.

I think Alabama is going to bring pressure on Tebow and not let the down field routes develop. I also think the Tide will stack the line and make Tebow beat them with his arm down the field.

The key for Florida will be in pass protection allowing Tebow, who is very accurate with time, to find guys like Aaron Hernandez and Riley Cooper down the field. If a guy like Deonte Thompson can step then that would be big for Urban Meyer's offense.

4. What Is The Impact Of Not Having Carlos Dunlap?

You didn't think I was going to leave out the 290 pound future first rounder not in the room on game day, did you? Dunlap leads the team in sacks and is second in tackles for loss this season.

In last year's game, Florida was able to tilt their blitzes away from Dunlap knowing he could beat his man one on one. That won't be the case this year unless Justin Trattou and William Green play out of their minds.

But I also wonder what the impact is on the team's preparation. Was this just one guy not focused on this game or are their others?

Alabama: 4 Questions For The SEC Championship

Last year's versions: Florida, Alabama

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Alabama: 4 Questions For The SEC Championship Game

Alabama is at the same point they were last year at this time - undefeated with the Florida Gators standing between them and a BCS Championship bid. The Tide fell 31-20 to Florida last year after leading 20-17 after three quarters. To get over the hump and win this year, Alabama has four big questions to answer.

1. Can The Tide Put Pressure On Tebow?

They tried to last year with the blitz, but Tebow led two scoring drives down the field in the fourth quarter to win. Florida had trouble early on protecting Tebow, but has improved as the season has gone on with a revamped lineup.

Nick Saban knows how accurate Tebow is when given time. I fully expect Alabama to bring pressure just as much as last year with an improved defensive line this year.

If the Tide can get pressure from their front four alone that would be huge in stopping the Florida passing game.

2. Can Greg McElroy Repeat His Performance From Last Week?

I fully expect Charlie Strong to try and make McElroy beat the Gator Defense through the air, especially after seeing what Auburn did last week in slowing down the Alabama running game.

For the game, McElroy was 21 of 31 for 218 yards two touchdowns and zero interceptions. But on the most important drive of his career he was 7 for 8 including the game winning score.

If he can use that performance as a spring board this weekend, Alabama will be very hard to stop.
3. Can Javier Arenas Be Special on Special Teams?

Arenas has one punt return for a touchdown this season and is averaging over 16 yards per return. On kickoffs, he is getting nearly 30 yards per return.

The Gators have only had four punts returned on them all season with a grand total of 13 yards netted. Florida is very good at covering kicks as well allowing just 20 yards per return with zero touchdowns.

4. Can Alabama Stop The Dive Play?

Florida's spread option offense starts with the dive play up the middle by either the running back or Tebow. The Gators ran this play with great success against LSU, who has a defense nearly as talented as Alabama's.

If the dive opens up, it forces Alabama's linebackers to stay home and not be able to cover the edges or go into pass coverage as much. And that means a long day for the Tide front seven.

Florida: 4 Questions For The SEC Championship

Last year's versions: Florida, Alabama

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