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On one side is Alabama's steady Greg McElroy. On the other is, well, who knows how seventh-ranked Florida plans to handle its quarterbacks Saturday night against the No. 1 Crimson Tide?

The Gators will enter Byrant-Denny Stadium with a new wrinkle after freshman quarterback Trey Burton rushed five times for 40 yards and five touchdowns in last week's 48-14 trampling of Kentucky. He also caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback John Brantley, who completed 24 of his 35 attempts for 248 yards in his best showing of the season.

"It does create some problems," Alabama coach Nick Saban said, "but it creates more problems when you've got one guy who can do it all because you have to defend it all all the time."

That's what everybody in the Southeastern Conference had to do the past few seasons when Tim Tebow was the Gators' quarterback. Tebow's departure left questions in Gainesville, and those questions became concerns Sept. 4, when the Gators struggled before putting away Miami of Ohio 34-12.

Brantley, a 6-foot-3, 218-pounder from Ocala, Fla., threw for 113 yards in the opener and directed an offense that had 212 yards.

"Obviously we looked awful in the first game," Florida coach Urban Meyer said. "We made some improvements in the second game (South Florida), and we made some more improvements in the third game (Tennessee), which was our first time in an SEC road atmosphere. In this last game, I thought he played really well, so John has improved along with the players around him.

"I have no problem with the way John is playing. In fact, I think he is playing at a high level right now."

Brantley ranks eighth in the league in passing yards per game (175) and passing efficiency (131.2), but Saban agrees with Meyer's assessment of his weekly upgrades.

"I think he's played very, very well for them in what his role has been," Saban said. "It's going to be a challenge for us to be able to stop the combinations of things that they do. He is very capable of making good plays, as they always have very good skill players."

Burton, a 6-2, 219-pounder from Venice, Fla., had two carries in each of the first three games totaling 15 yards before his eruption last week. Against the Wildcats, he also completed a pass for 42 yards.

Then there is McElroy, who improved his starting record as a high school and college quarterback to 34-0 with last week's 24-20 comeback win at Arkansas. The 6-3, 225-pound senior from Southlake, Texas, entered last Saturday leading the nation in efficiency but dropped to sixth after having two passes intercepted.

McElroy has thrown three interceptions so far after suffering four in 14 games last season.

"I know last year that two interceptions in a game would have absolutely put me in the tank," McElroy said. "I think back to the game against South Carolina last year, which wasn't a great showing by any means, and I just folded my cards and let Mark [Ingram] take over. This year I battled and fought through it.

"They made a couple of good plays on us and I had a couple of ill-advised decisions, but that is part of the game. If you look around the country, guys throw picks."

McElroy's seven touchdown passes trail only Arkansas' Ryan Mallett (10) and Auburn's Cam Newton (nine) within the conference. His .709 completion percentage trails no one.

"He hasn't lost since seventh or eighth grade, so he's obviously the best quarterback in the business right now," Meyer said. "I know there might be people who will want to pick apart his throwing motion, but he's a winner, and I have a lot of respect for winners."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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