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December 5, 2008

Keep an eye on: Week 15 story lines

Each Friday, Rivals.com's college football experts give fans six things to keep an eye out for over the course of the weekend.

Terry Bowden: Alabama's open-field tackling

Florida's explosive offense is averaging 46.3 points (third nationally) and 449.4 yards (17th nationally) per game. Much of that success can be attributed to the Gators' ability to spread out defenses and create as much space as possible between each defender. This allows their speedy backs and receivers to run more freely in the open field and prevents gang tackling from the defense. As a result, one of the keys to the game will be Alabama's ability to tackle in the open field. Over the years, Nick Saban has established a great reputation for being one of the best teachers in college football on the fundamentals of tackling. No matter where he has coached, his teams have been outstanding tacklers. So, let's see how many yards Florida gets Saturday after an Alabama defender makes contact with a runner/receiver.

Olin Buchanan: How Alabama's defense holds up against Florida's offense

Florida has scored at least 42 points in seven consecutive games and rivals Oklahoma for the country's most explosive offense. That stretch included lopsided wins over Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Florida State, which are good defensive teams. But none are as good defensively as Alabama, which ranks third in the nation in total and scoring defense. It will be interesting to see if Alabama's defense, which been so dominant, can slow Tim Tebow and Co. That Percy Harvin is injured will hurt the Gators, but they still have so much speed and talent that they will be a huge test for the Tide.

Tom Dienhart: Alabama QB John Parker Wilson

Wilson will have to hit a few big passes for the Crimson Tide to beat Florida. Wilson has delivered all season, but he will be facing perhaps the best defense he has seen all year. Florida is fast, athletic and aggressive. No doubt, the Gators will load the box to stuff Alabama's running game, putting the ball and the game into the hands of Wilson. He is the fourth-rated passer in the SEC but 58th nationally completing 58.6 percent of his passes for 1,909 yards with nine TD tosses. Wilson has been the ultimate game manager, tossing just five picks and generally avoiding the critical mistake en route to leading the Tide to a 12-0 record and No. 1 ranking. But on this stage and against this foe, Wilson will have to make a few big plays for Alabama to prevail.

David Fox: The Big 12 title game

I will watch the same thing Texas fans will watch Missouri's offense. Can it keep up with Oklahoma's? The Tigers' only chance to win the Big 12 and clear the path for Texas to the national championship is for Chase Daniel and his offense to have a huge game. Daniel needs to play a flawless game, and Jeremy Maclin and Chase Coffman need to play through pain for the Tigers to have a chance. Daniel and Coffman are seniors. Maclin could leave for the NFL draft. Offensive coordinator Dave Christensen will be Wyoming's coach next year. Could this be the swan song for the Missouri offense as we know it?

Mike Huguenin: Florida's passing attack

Percy Harvin is Florida's best receiver, but if he plays against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, he will be at less than 100 percent because of an ankle injury. That means other Florida receivers will face added pressure. Louis Murphy is a big-time deep threat who likely will get more balls thrown his way. Tight end Aaron Hernandez is effective on shovel passes but also can get down the seam. And in Deonte Thompson and Riley Cooper, the Gators have two talented receivers who haven't had many opportunities this season. In addition, the Gators may look to throw a few screens to speedy tailbacks Jeffrey Demps and Chris Rainey and hope they can run away from the Tide's linebackers. While Florida has run on 62.3 percent of its plays from scrimmage, the Gators may look to pass first Saturday in an effort to loosen up Alabama's defense. But the Tide haven't allowed a team to throw for even 200 yards in any of the past five games and have surrendered 200 passing yards just five times this season. In addition, the Tide have allowed just 12 TD passes this season. Florida has thrown at least three TD passes in five of its past six games and has 28 this season.

Steve Megargee: Alabama's offensive line vs. Florida's defensive line

Alabama is ranked first in the country primarily because it boasts an offensive line that rivals Oklahoma as the nation's best. The Tide are particularly dangerous on the left side of the line, with All-America candidate Andre Smith at tackle and Mike Johnson at guard. Antoine Caldwell is one of the best half-dozen centers in the nation. That exceptional offensive line faces a Florida front four that won't be at full strength. Defensive tackle Brandon Antwine is out for the season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament against Florida State last week. The Gators already had lost defensive tackle Matt Patchan for the season with a torn medial collateral ligament. The lack of depth inside could force Florida to move Carlos Dunlap one of the team's top pass rushers from end to tackle. Alabama's best chance to win the SEC Championship Game is to control the clock with its running game. Florida's injuries on the defensive line could make that task much easier.



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