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Gainesville Sun photo by Brad McClenny / Defensive back Eli Ricks returns an interception of Kyle Trask 68 yards for a touchdown during LSU's 37-34 upset of Florida last Saturday night in the Swamp.

The Southeastern Conference championship game hasn't produced many fights to the finish in recent years, as reflected by LSU's 37-10 drubbing of Georgia last December.

Nine of the past 11 matchups have been decided by at least two touchdowns, though the two exceptions were quite thrilling with Alabama's 32-28 topping of Georgia in 2012 and the Crimson Tide's 35-28 comeback triumph over the Bulldogs two years ago.

This Saturday's contest between No. 1 Alabama and No. 11 Florida will take place at night for the first time, but the oddsmakers are not expecting much drama. The 10-0 Crimson Tide are 17-point favorites against a Gators team that will enter Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium having been stunned 37-34 at home last weekend by an LSU team that entered the Swamp with a 3-5 record.

"We're putting this last game behind us and worrying about what we have in front of us," Florida junior tight end Kyle Pitts said. "Alabama is a great team, but we're also a great team. We just have to go out and show the world that we can beat them."

Florida is the first team to play in an SEC championship game following a defeat since Jim McElwain's Gators in 2015 and 2016, who handily lost their regular-season finales to Florida State before getting routed by Alabama. The 2016 SEC title was quite grotesque, as the Crimson Tide cruised to a 54-16 shellacking.

A repeat of that outcome is not out of the question given that Alabama has won each of its last six games by at least four touchdowns, including Saturday's 52-3 whipping of Arkansas in Fayetteville, but Gators coach Dan Mullen doesn't believe there is an awe factor to this game.

"Our guys think they're pretty good players, too," Mullen said. "Our guys are competitors, and they love playing in the big games."

There were comparative scores during this 10-game regular season that provide hope of a competitive title contest, most notably Alabama defeating Georgia by 17 points and the Gators defeating the Bulldogs by 16. Yet the two teams that downed Florida — Texas A&M and LSU — lost to Alabama by a combined 63 points.

"I'm sure they will want to come out and prove that they're a very good team," Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said. "We expect them to play their best against us like a lot of teams do. They certainly have a very talented team and are capable of beating anybody in the country.

"Maybe what I feared would happen at Arkansas with our team — looking ahead to the SEC championship game — may have had something to do with their game. I don't really know, but I expect them to respond in a very positive way."

Both Mullen and Saban agree that playing for a championship will create plenty of excitement, regardless of past outcomes.

Alabama and Florida have been lighting up scoreboards all season, with the Crimson Tide averaging 49.5 points per game and the Gators 41.2. The bigger difference is on defense, with the Crimson Tide yielding 16.8 points per game and looking more impressive each week and the Gators allowing 26.3.

"Being an underdog just makes you go harder," Gators redshirt junior linebacker Ventrell Miller said. "You'll be surprised on Saturday what happens."

 

Butch 'phenomenal'

Saban was asked this week about former Tennessee and new Arkansas State head coach Butch Jones, who served as an offensive analyst on the Crimson Tide's 2018 and 2019 teams and has been a special assistant to Saban since February.

Jones was named Arkansas State's new coach this past Saturday.

"Butch has done a phenomenal job here for us in the several years that he's been here," Saban said. "He's very well liked by the players and is very well-organized. He's been very helpful to me personally, and he's going to stay involved to whatever degree that he can."

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

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