The biggest game of No. 11 Florida's season - even though it plays no part in their chance of making the SEC Championship - is on our doorstep.
The Gators will host the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday in a sold-out Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The game will serve as an excellent measuring stick for Florida to see if its roster is capable of hanging with, and perhaps defeating, College Football Playoff-caliber teams this season.
Will Florida be able to pull off such a challenge? The AllGators staff lays out its predictions below. Although records are not based on the spread, Alabama is currently the 14.5-point favorite per SI Sportsbook, with the over/under set at 59.5.
Zach Goodall (2-0): Alabama 33, Florida 24
I really like what Alabama has to offer offensively (just like any other year), but I'm not convinced the unit is at a point where it would walk all over the Gators' fairly experienced defense.
Bryce Young has stepped in at quarterback for Mac Jones seamlessly and he has some nice weapons, but none have stood out through two games like Najee Harris and Devonta Smith did a year ago - two players that gave the Gators fits in December's SEC Championship. Whereas, the Gators defense appears far more in-sync than it was in 2020 with numerous veteran transfers contributing in big ways - although, certainly, the loss of middle linebacker Ventrell Miller will hurt.
Flipping sides, Alabama's defense could have opportunities to shorten Florida's offensive drives if quarterback Emory Jones keeps committing turnovers, which he's done four times through the air in two games. I'm expecting the Gators to continue depending on their run game (they're averaging 15 more rushes per game than passes this year) with Anthony Richardson sprinkling in some deep passing attempts when the opportunities present themselves.
Alabama should walk out of The Swamp with a win, but provided a sell-out home environment in the Gators' favor and both SEC powerhouses being relatively young teams, this should be a closer game than oddsmakers envision.
Demetrius Harvey (2-0): Alabama 35, Florida 21
This is the ultimate test for the Florida Gators as they take on the best team in the country in the Alabama Crimson Tide. In the first week of SEC play, both teams are expected to face their greatest challenge of this young season. The Gators enter the game as a big underdog with a 14.5-point spread. I predict Florida will cover the spread, but not by much. While defensively, Florida should have a slight advantage, it won't be enough due to the number of possessions Alabama will likely have on the day.
Entering a hostile environment, it wouldn't shock me to see Florida come out of the gate pretty riled up, especially defensively. Given that the forecast appears to call for rain on Saturday, it also wouldn't be surprising to see the score relatively low, which is why I predicted 35 points for Alabama. Though, that can be much lower depending on how Florida's defense plays. It will be the first opportunity for the Gators to show off its new-look secondary, and defensive line.
With Anthony Richardson hobbled and Emory Jones not having the most impressive start to the year, I believe Alabama's defense won't have much trouble holding Florida to just 21 points or less.
Brandon Carroll (2-0): Alabama 38, Florida 31
This is Dan Mullen's biggest game at Florida. In year four, winning in the high-pressure settings starts now.
Facing off against an Alabama team that will have not lost a game in 658 days, Florida will have to be nearly perfect in all aspects of the game. Namely, the Gators will be forced to execute with supreme consistency and will have to win three key positional battles to have a shot at taking down the Tide.
I believe that the UF run game sustains its early-season success and sets the tone early with Malik Davis, Dameon Pierce and both quarterbacks – as they will continue to rotate Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson – carrying the load. As a result, Florida will be able to control the clock, limiting the explosive offense Bryce Young leads onto the field of opportunities to cause damage.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, Gators defensive coordinator Todd Grantham will put an added emphasis on rattling the redshirt freshman quarterback early and often, ramping up the pressure with aggressive blitz calls in an attempt to force the youngster in his first true road start into uncharacteristic mistakes.
While the Gators ultimately fall short of toppling the Tide, losing 38-31, Florida keeps it close to beat the spread – with the help of a raucous Swamp environment. In return, UF asserts itself as a legitimate contender with Georgia for the SEC East crown and a possible rematch with Alabama in Atlanta.
Ethan Budowsky (2-0): Alabama 45, Florida 38
You will not find me anywhere in public saying the Gators will beat the Tide, though I did just write an article on how they can do it. Florida played Bama really tough just nine months ago in Atlanta, so I think it will be closer than that 15-point spread suggests.
I do expect a lot of offense and I think both The Swamp and the threat of rain will play a factor. These teams can both put up points at will, so just like in Atlanta it will come down to who can make the most stops. I think Bama just has too much firepower everywhere, and the loss of Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney is too big for Florida to overcome. Those two were the main reason the Gators even had a shot last December.
My main interest will be how much Richardson plays and how much of a shot the Gators can give Bama. I have no doubt Mullen will once again pull out all the stops to beat the Tide, but I think he'll come up just short in another excruciating one-score loss.
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