The 2016 SEC Championship is scheduled for next Saturday, December 3. The participants have been set, so we now know more about what each team looks like heading into the big game.
Despite losing to Florida State 31-13 on Saturday, the 8-3 Florida Gators will represent the SEC East in the title game. The Gators actually locked up their division with a win over LSU last weekend.
The Alabama Crimson Tide, meanwhile, enters the game as not only an unsurprising addition but as a presumed favorite. Alabama held on to its undefeated record (12-0) by shellacking the Auburn Tigers 30-12 in this year’s edition of the Iron Bowl.
This will mark the third consecutive year in which Alabama has reached the SEC Championship, and the second year in a row that the team will face Florida. Let’s take a look at the schedule for the game and some of our predictions for what we can expect.
2016 SEC Championship
What: Matchup for the 2016 SEC Title
Who: Alabama Crimson Tide and Florida Gators
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA
When: Saturday, December 3
Time: 4 p.m. ET
National TV: CBS
Expect Alabama to Keep Things Simple
Winning the SEC title would be nice, but Alabama head coach Nick Saban likely has his sights set firmly on winning another national championship. With the Tide ranked No. 1 and undefeated heading into the SEC Championship, there’s a strong possibility Alabama will still make it into the College Football Playoff even with a loss.
After all, Ohio State made it into the top four despite suffering one loss, and Michigan and Clemson both remained in the top four after suffering their first defeats of the season.
Don’t expect Alabama to get exotic with its play-calling, even if traditional offense isn’t lighting things up. The defense is good enough to carry the team if needed, and with the playoff likely on the immediate horizon, the Tide will want to keep any secrets it has hidden up its proverbial sleeves.
But Expect Alabama to Fine-Tune Some Things
The Tide may carry a relatively simplified game plan, but this doesn’t mean there won’t be opportunities for the team to try improving upon some things before the playoff—especially on the offensive side of the ball.
Trying to coax more out of quarterback Jalen Hurts’ downfield passing might be one thing the team focuses on before the playoff. While Hurts has been an effective signal-caller, he ranks just 45th in the country among qualified passers with an average of 7.72 yards per pass attempt.
Getting the ground attack back on track wouldn’t hurt, either. The Tide rushed for “just” 203 yards against Auburn after averaging nearly 250 yards per game coming into Saturday.
Florida should provide a worthy sparring partner.
Expect an Intense Game From Both Sides
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
While Alabama may well keep its game plan simple—sticking with what has worked isn’t the worst idea, after all—don’t expect the players to take this game lightly. The same can be said for the Gators, who would love nothing more than to avenge last year’s 29-15 loss.
This is the ninth time these two teams have met in the SEC Championship, and the rivalry that has developed in the big game is real.
For an SEC Championship record 9th time, it's Alabama-Florida in the championship
*The winner has gone on to win the national title 5 times pic.twitter.com/LOtpIHk7on
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 21, 2016
Alabama has beaten the Gators three times in the title game since 2009. Florida, however, defeated Alabama back in 2008 en route to a national title.
While the Gators’ hopes of reaching the playoff most likely died with Saturday’s loss, there is a lot of pride, history and, of course, that championship to play for. Alabama, meanwhile, may be looking to prove itself to itself before moving on to the next stage of the postseason.
“Alabama is our strongest competition,” Alabama linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton said, per Paul Myerberg of USA Today. “We hold each other accountable. Coaches hold coaches accountable. Coaches hold players accountable. Players hold players accountable.”
Expect a Dominant Performance From Alabama
Even if Alabama utilizes a simplified game plan, there’s a good chance the team still dominates the Gators in this one. While Florida brings an adequate defense into the game—one allowing an average of 13.0 points per game—the Alabama defense is truly elite.
The Crimson Tide is rated first in overall defense by Pro Football Focus College and hasn’t allowed a touchdown in the past month.
In the SEC championship game, Florida will face an Alabama defense that did this in November. pic.twitter.com/xMADjy2naK
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 27, 2016
Unfortunately, this leads to a big mismatch for the Gators, who have struggled at times on the offensive side of the football. Florida had been averaging 25.2 points per game before Saturday and is rated 154th in overall offense by PFF College.
The Gators may be able to keep the game close if the team’s defense is playing lights out. However, it’s difficult to envision this Florida team actually putting up enough points on Alabama to win the game.
Just consider the fact that Auburn had been averaging more than 34 points per game and could only muster 12 against Alabama in the Iron Bowl.
Stranger things have occurred in college football, of course, but this is a matchup that heavily favors Alabama.