Tebow, Gators prove physically inferior to ‘Bama

Tim Tebow’s grip on the college football world loosened considerably early Saturday evening in Atlanta, as the Florida Gators’ reign on the 2009 college football landscape ended with a thud. The undefeated Alabama Crimson Tide thoroughly manhandled the overmatched Gators 32-13 to capture the SEC championship and earn a berth into the BCS title game in Pasadena.

Florida cornerback Joe Haden told the Associated Press after the game, “They seemed like they wanted it a whole lot.” Alabama wanting it a whole lot would be an understatement.

The impact of head coach Nick Saban was never more evident than in this near-perfect performance. Everything seemed to go right for ‘Bama, as tailback Mark Ingram showed that he may indeed become the school’s first Heisman Trophy winner, tallying 113 rushing yards and three touchdowns. MVP quarterback Greg McElroy proved that he’s no longer a question mark, passing for 239 yards and a score, while Alabama’s vaunted defense clamped down on Tebow—rendering Superman human again.

While Alabama is set to take on Texas for the national championship, what’s next for Florida?

Urban Meyer’s Gators are most likely headed to New Orleans for a spot in the Sugar Bowl after losing their chance at a second straight national title and third in four years. But the way the team lost seems to speak volumes about the brand of Gators football.

Ingram’s third touchdown of the game finished off Alabama’s longest drive of the season—an 88-yarder. The tailback noted after the game, “Everything we did all year long was to beat them, to be better than them.” On Saturday, Alabama’s hard work clearly paid off.

How much difference would an eligible Carlos Dunlap, the team's best pass rusher, have made? I don’t think much, as one of Florida’s flaws seems to be its finesse nature on both sides of the ball. Dunlap would have been overpowered, just as the rest of his teammates were against the stronger Tide offensive linemen.

Alabama controlled the clock for nearly 40 minutes, compiling 490 yards versus the nation’s top-ranked defense. But who did Florida really play this season when they appeared tough and mighty?

The non-conference schedule was cupcake city, as the team battled Charleston Southern, Troy, Florida International and the annual battle with Florida State. The toughest conference games were against an above-average LSU team in Baton Rouge and a sneaky game in Columbia against South Carolina. But did they really stand out even against subpar competition?

While Alabama had its own scares against Tennessee and Auburn, their physical brand of football was never questioned. They also played three non-SEC softies, but the Virginia Tech win to open the season proved that they could win even when playing a sloppy game. Many wondered what would happen if they played a perfect game. We found out on Saturday in Atlanta against the Gators.

What was missing for Florida this season? Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy were certainly missed on offense—despite the solid production from Aaron Hernandez and Riley Cooper. But how much was former offensive coordinator Dan Mullen missed? Was too much pressure placed on the offense? Or simply, are the Gators more suited to the underdog role such as in ’06 and ’08.

John Brantley is set to take over for Tebow next season, and it’ll be intriguing to watch him try to make his mark on the program and establish himself as the new offensive cult hero. All indications are that Brantley’s the real deal. He’s not Tim Tebow, but he doesn’t need to be for Florida to get back to SEC superiority.

Talent will always be aplenty in Gainesville. Physical toughness? That’s the question I have after Saturday night’s performance.

Can the Gators, with the spread offense, ever be the real deal again in a conference that now has a new sheriff in town: the bigger, tougher and more ruthless Alabama Crimson Tide?

Dave Miller is the Web Manager of the National Football Post. You can follow him on Twitter at Miller_Dave.

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