‘Bama finds itself a dome ‘dog again

Published 6:24 pm Wednesday, December 3, 2008

TUSCALOOSA – Alabama has pushed aside all comers on its way to a perfect regular season, climbed to the top of the rankings and stuck around for quite awhile.

Now, it’s back to Square One for team No. 1: As an underdog in the Georgia Dome.

No. 2 Florida is a 10-point favorite to topple the top-ranked Crimson Tide Saturday in the Southeastern Conference championship game in Atlanta, where ‘Bama opened the season as an underdog to Clemson.

“I ain’t worried about that at all,” Tide cornerback Javier Arenas said. “It’s been like that the whole season, starting with Clemson and going to Georgia. You’re accustomed to it now.”

Still, is that any way to treat a team that just walloped archrival Auburn 36-0?

Then again, maybe the point spread is a compliment to Alabama (12-0) considering Florida’s last eight opponents have come no closer than Vanderbilt’s 28-point loss.

“As well as they’ve been playing, it doesn’t surprise me,” Tide linebacker Cory Reamer said. “They’ve been putting up 50 points, beating people by four touchdowns. Anybody that gets in their way, they’re just mowing over.

“People have written us off as underdogs before and we’ve proven them wrong. It’s nothing different.”

Much of it could have to do with styles. The Tide has won with defense, special teams and the running game. Ho hum.

Florida has excelled in all those areas, too, but won by 58 points against a Kentucky team that Alabama eked out a 17-14 victory against and has dazzled with coach Urban Meyer’s spread offense.

Maybe a team that routinely puts up huge offensive numbers is just more glamorous than one that is more known for shutting offenses down.

Arenas compares it to the New England Patriots facing the Baltimore Ravens in a big game.

Or as Tide linebacker Cory Reamer said: “Offense always gets the glory.”

The Gators, meanwhile, even seemed a tad bemused by their status as fairly heavy favorites in a game between two teams vying for a spot in the BCS national championship game.

After all, even Florida has stumbled in a 31-30 loss to Mississippi before resuming its march through opponents. The Tide has had a couple of close calls but managed to remain unblemished behind a defense that ranks second nationally against the run and yields the third-fewest points. (Florida is 12th and third in those categories, incidentally).

Ten points?

“I don’t know about that,” Florida receiver David Nelson said. “They’re 12-0 and from what we’ve seen on film, they’re a really good team. They do everything right. They have a great defense from what I’ve seen.

“Wow, I don’t know how you can favor a No. 2 over a No. 1 team.”

Tide players insist it’s nothing new. They’re used to seeing and hearing more about those other past or current national title contenders with high-powered offenses, like the Gators, Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech.

Then there’s Alabama, a potent running team that is a modest 28th in scoring offense and a humble 97th in passing. The Tide’s top offensive player is left tackle Andre Smith. Florida counters with Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and do-it-all Percy Harvin.

“We’re underdogs because they focus so much on the great athleticism that those guys consist of,” Arenas said. “And they do have a lot of athleticism. Whoever is marking us as a 10-point underdog, I think that’s what they’re focusing on. That’s what they do. That’s their opinion. We’re just going to play our best ball and let it all unravel from there.”

Tide coach Nick Saban said he doesn’t need to use the underdog status as motivation for his players. A league title and national championship shot should suffice in that regard.

“I mean it doesn’t matter,” Saban said. “Florida has played well, and they’ve scored a lot of points. They haven’t even had a close game other than the Ole Miss game. They’ve been a dominant team, and they certainly deserve all the accolades that their team gets because they’ve played extremely well all season long.”

Tebow also doesn’t think ‘Bama will let it affect how the team plays in the game.

“I think they’re pretty mature,” he said. “I think they’ve got mature coaches. I don’t think they’ll let that bother them. I don’t think they worry about it, just like I don’t think we’d worry about it if we were in their position.

“I think they’re just going out there and trying to do their job like they have all year.”