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Jumbo Package: Friday, 4 December 2015

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Your daily dose of Crimson Tide news and notes.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Friday, everyone. Tomorrow represents the last time we will get to watch our beloved Tide until New Year's Eve. Win and the Tide goes to the playoffs for the second consecutive season, with all signs pointing to a matchup in Dallas against the Big 10 champion. Lose, and they likely wind up back in Atlanta to play another exciting consolation game. The Tide is heavily favored, most in the media calling this one a foregone conclusion. Meanwhile, Alabama is having to combat distractions resulting from rumored staff changes. We'll start with game notes:

2015 SEC Championship Game: Alabama and Florida is Familiar Matchup - Team Speed Kills

Alabama and Florida will meet for the 2015 SEC Championship in Atlanta on Saturday. If this feels like a familiar matchup for the game, well, it should. This year makes 11 appearances for UF and ten for Bama. Four teams—Auburn, Georgia, LSU, and Tennessee—are tied for third in appearances with just five. This weekend's participants at least double the number of times playing in the game of any other team in the league.

Alabama-Florida and Saban-McElwain are all familiar with SEC title game | FOX Sports

"Well, first and foremost, all I can say is wow. It was amazing in both years we were in it," said McElwain, who guided the Gators to a 10-2 mark. "The energy that's in there because they're all true fans. The place it's located, everybody can get to. I got to tell you, it's something special." In fact, the last time both Alabama’s Saban and Florida’s McElwain entered into the Georgia Dome to compete for the league title, they did so for the same team. At the conclusion of Alabama’s 2008 season, under head coach Saban and offensive coordinator McElwain, the Tide lost to Florida 31-20 in the championship. A year later, the schools rematched, only this time it was the Tide who prevailed 32-13.

Familiarity will certainly be a recurring theme tomorrow. The Alabama Crimson Tide vs. the Florida Gators has overwhelmingly been the most common matchup in the game, while the two coaches know one another well and play a similar style of football that will be very familiar to long-time SEC football fans.

SEC Championship Ultimate Preview: Can Florida derail Alabama? - CBSSports.com

The prediction: I have no idea how Florida's offense is going to score touchdowns against Alabama, and given the state of the Gators' field goal kicking, I'm not sure there are any sure-fire scoring opportunities outside of defense or special teams. Now, will Derrick Henry be a little gassed after 46 carries against Auburn? Maybe. Will Jalen Tabor or Vernon Hargreaves III force a turnover against Jake Coker? Sure! But even with those scenarios, I still see Alabama winning this game by three touchdowns. Alabama 31, Florida 10

It would be somewhat surprising for the Tide to hit the 30-point mark in this one, considering that they fell short of that mark against Arkansas, Tennessee, and Auburn. The Florida defense is appreciably better than any of those three. Of course, with Treon Harris at QB there does exist an opportunity for Eddie Jackson or Minkah Fitzpatrick to put some points on the board.

Gator seniors allow leading receiver to return, status for SEC title game up in the air | CollegeFootballTalk

The wide receiver was suspended for Florida’s game this past Saturday against Florida State for what was termed as an unspecified violation of team rules. With the SEC championship game on tap Saturday, head coach Jim McElwain revealed earlier this week that he would leave Robinson’s fate in the hands of his senior Gator teammates. Those teammates have decided to welcome Robinson back to the team, with the receiver returning to practice Wednesday with the team. Whether that means a return to the field remains to be seen as McElwain responded "[w]e’ll see what happens" when asked if the junior will play against the second-ranked Tide.

Florida was missing their leading receiver against the Florida State Seminoles. I don't know why coaches bother with the team vote thing - is there any chance that the seniors were going to vote to play without their best wide-out? In any event, Robinson was around for the putrid offensive performances against the South Carolina Gamecocks and the Florida Atlantic Owls, and was a non-factor in both. That the leading receiver has 47 catches for 505 yards speaks volume about the state of their passing game.

How Florida Gators Antonio Morrison came back from devastating injury - SEC Blog- ESPN

You have to believe it, but hearing how Morrison got to an All-SEC-like season seems too fantastical. With every cut, sprint, and tackle, Morrison defies medical science and human genetics. "In all the years that I've done this, I've never quite encountered anything like this or someone like him," said Florida's director of rehabilitation Marty Huegel, who has been with the school for 35 years. "For lack of a better term, it's the most amazing thing I've ever seen."

Inspirational story of a young man who came back from devastating injury to lead an excellent defense.

How Jim McElwain's son Jerret, an Alabama student, changed his life | AL.com

Jerret knew this situation could happen one day, but he thought he had a few years -- not his dad's first season in Gainesville. His solution is to sit in Florida's family section and root for both programs. "No matter how the game ends, I'll have a 'W' under my belt," Jerret says. "It will be one of those games where I'm going to be happy at the end of the day no matter what. I'll be on the Florida side rooting on the family because family is more than anything, but you can best believe I'm still going to be rooting for the Tide.

Poor Jerret is going to be in a tough spot.

SEC Championship Game Tickets Plummeting On Resale Market, Still Top-Priced Title Game This Weekend - Forbes

With the Gators stumbling into Georgia Dome this weekend after a crippling 27-2 loss to Florida State, they will need a minor miracle to take down the surging Crimson Tide, who can solidify their spot in the College Football Playoff with a win. SEC Championship Game tickets on TiqIQ are now averaging $365.54 – down 46.8% from the $686.53 average on November 8, the day after Florida clinched its berth in Atlanta. The cheapest ticket is currently listed for $155.

This will probably be the most affordable chance to see the Tide in a championship game that you will ever get.

Basketball:

Avery Johnson 'pleasantly surprised' with Alabama's progress; 4 things to watch heading into next game | AL.com

The Tide, Johnson said, has come "a long way" since the summer and has made additional noticeable progress since its season-opening win over Kennesaw State Nov. 13. Alabama, which improved to 4-2 with the win over Notre Dame, plays at 0-5 Southern Mississippi Friday night. "I think most people thought we were going to go 0-3 in Orlando," Johnson said. "So am I surprised we went 2-1? I am pleasantly surprised with some of the things that I'm seeing at this stage of the season."

Alabama puts big wins in rear-view mirror, turns focus to Southern Miss | TuscaloosaNews.com

"Every game we play is going to be a dogfight," Johnson said on Thursday. "We need to go down and play well." Johnson said the victory celebration after a last-second win over Notre Dame last Sunday was "fun," but not a part of this week's plan. "Where this team has come from, if you saw us last summer, you'd understand," he said. "When we win a game, it's like Mardi Gras. Especially the way we won that game, with Retin (Obasohan) making that shot (an underhanded scoop layup with six seconds to play). They were excited. I was excited. We're not the biggest team, or the most experienced. Our outside shooting comes and goes. So when we win, you're going to see that (emotion)."

Avery certainly says the right things and his team has responded. Most importantly, they seem to be having fun:

At the end of the day, these are games played by young men who are supposed to be enjoying the times of their lives. Refreshing to see Coach Johnson embracing that.

Coaching stuff:

Kirby Smart to play out season at Alabama before joining Georgia - CBSSports.com

Kirby Smart will stay at Alabama through the College Football Playoff process before heading to Georgia to become the Bulldogs' coach, Alabama color analyst Phil Savage told CBS Sports on Thursday. Savage cited "two people close to the program" as sources. Savage is also executive director of the Senior Bowl and former Cleveland Browns general manager. He made the same assertion regarding Smart's future Thursday while appearing on SiriusXM College Sports Radio.

Alabama players: Kirby Smart news not a distraction | AL.com

Saban said it seems like players understand the situation and remain "zeroed in on what we have to do Saturday." "[Saban] just let us know that we have to take it one game at a time and don't let anything distract us," tight end O.J. Howard said. "[He said] we have a goal in mind, and we need to get ready to accomplish that. I think our team is ready to take on the challenge that we have coming up this weekend."

Frankly, I'm not sure that Kirby staying or going will have a great impact on a potential playoff run. Guys like A'Shawn Robinson, Jonathan Allen, Cyrus Jones, and Reggie Ragland have yet to win a national title as starters and are undoubtedly hungry to get the team back to the promised land. Additionally, in-game scheming from the sideline has had little to do with this unit's success. By and large, they have played simple and allowed the superior athletes to "dominate the guy they are playing against." Earlier we highlighted a play against Tennessee where Minkah Fitzpatrick signaled for a shift in the defense in response to motion, but that was simply an on-field adjustment to a man coverage. This defense has performed at this level because the players are extremely talented, understand their responsibilities, and have consistently won their individual battles.

Nick Saban opens up about career, past aspirations | AL.com

"When I was the defensive coordinator at Michigan State, it was the first time we had success, in 1987 I think it was, and we actually won the Big Ten championship, had the best defense in college football and won the Rose Bowl," Saban said. "And Kent State, which is the school I went to, the job was open, and I applied for it, and it was the first time I was ever excited about thinking that I would have the chance to be a head coach someday. I never got hired. So that's when I got a little frustrated and said, 'Wow, you did what you did here this year and they didn't hire you at your own school. You're probably never going to be a head coach.' That's exactly what I thought. "And that had a lot to do with me going a few months later to the Houston Oilers and coached in the NFL for two years because I thought I was never going to get to be a head coach in college."

To think that there was a day when Nick Saban wondered if he would get the opportunity to be a head man.

Not sure if this means anything for Alabama, but interesting nonetheless:

It has been suggested that Pruitt could return to Tuscaloosa. Speculate away.

That's it for now. Soak it up tomorrow, folks. December is a long month. Roll Tide.