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Alabama’s march to BCS might get mired in a Swamp

Some people have already moved this season’s Bowl Championship Series title game from Jan. 9 to Nov. 5, and from New Orleans to Tuscaloosa, Ala.

It’s invitation-only, of course, hosted by the Southeastern Conference.

Louisiana State and Alabama, the nation’s No.1- and No. 3-ranked teams, seem to be headed for an epic showdown in Bear Bryant’s football playpen.

Not…so…fast.

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There’s another SEC team out there, not ranked in the preseason top 20, not ranked in the top 10 now, that will be No. 1 on Nov. 6 if it can get to 9-0.

It’s a program that, just like its mascot, lurks below the surface. It prefers sneak attacks. Sometimes, all you can see are its eyeballs.

Don’t dawdle on a lake bank next to the Florida Gators.

Florida might have as much to say about this year’s title race as any team. This week and next, in Gainesville and Baton Rouge, Florida plays Alabama and top-ranked LSU.

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We really don’t know yet whether Florida is for real. The Gators are 4-0, but they tend to relax poolside for nonconference and their two SEC wins have come against non-explosive T and K (Tennessee/Kentucky), not TNT.

But Florida looks real.

Held up in the light, the Gators look like Alabama. The Gators are coached by Will Muschamp, who mentored under Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban at LSU and with the Miami Dolphins.

Like Alabama, Saturday’s prime-time opponent at “The Swamp,” Florida runs a pro-style offense. Both schools rely on running, stopping the run and competent play at quarterback.

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Florida quarterback John Brantley has passed for 752 yards, with four touchdowns and two interceptions in 86 passes.

Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron has passed for 779 yards, with four touchdowns and two interceptions in 95 passes.

Florida leads the SEC in rushing; Alabama is second.

Alabama is third nationally in rush defense, allowing 45.8 yards per game. Florida is fifth at 56.5.

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Trent Richardson, Alabama’s star back, hails from Florida. He played at the same high school that produced former Gators star Emmitt Smith.

Florida resembles Alabama but, poll politically, also reminds you of Auburn.

Last year, Auburn won the national title, out of nowhere, after starting No. 23 in the Associated Press poll. Florida started this year at No. 22, and is now No. 12.

Mind power will be on full display in Gainesville.

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Muschamp and Saban are cut from the same crusty coat.

Asked about Saban this week, Muschamp grunted, “We’re both intense guys.”

Saban doesn’t talk to opposing coaches during the season. “We don’t really have a lot of time for chitchat,” he said.

Saban did say Muschamp has been “a really, really good coach and done a good job everywhere he’s coached.”

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Also intriguing is Florida’s offense versus Saban’s defense.

One of Muschamp’s first moves as Gators coach was to hire former Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis as offensive coordinator.

Call it genius juxtaposition on display. Weis was a highly successful NFL play-caller with the New England Patriots but underperformed as head coach at Notre Dame.

Saban was a failed NFL head coach at Miami but, inarguably, is among the best college coaches of his era.

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Picking apart defenses is Weis’ forte, but breaking down Alabama’s defense will remind him more of his NFL days. “They’re not a grab-bag operation,” he said of the Crimson Tide.

Weis has done a nice job of paring down Brantley, thrown last year into the impossible position of replacing Tim Tebow.

Weis is wisely putting most of the offensive load on the speedster backfield of Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey. They have combined for 731 rushing yards with Rainey also contributing 214 receiving yards.

Florida hasn’t had to show much in easy wins — most of their games have been over by the half. “We ran the ball in order to end the game,” Muschamp said.

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Weis knows he’ll have to open up the playbook to have a chance to penetrate Alabama’s defensive front. The Crimson Tide has allowed only four plays longer than 20 yards.

Holding back?

“You won’t have to worry about that this week,” Weis said. “They’re going to get the kitchen sink.”

chris.dufresne@latimes.com


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