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Florida-Alabama highlights big Saturday

It’s certainly a big weekend of games, including huge matchups in the ACC and Big Ten.

The focus, however, will be on the Swamp where No. 3 Alabama plays No. 12 Florida (8 p.m., CBS) in a monster SEC showdown on Saturday. The Crimson Tide has numerous obstacles to get through this season if they hope to make it to New Orleans, including the Florida game, a big game against No. 1 LSU, the Iron Bowl and potentially the SEC title game.

Saturday’s game includes a reunion of sorts.

When Alabama head coach Nick Saban was at LSU, he hired new Florida head coach Will Muschamp as linebackers coach in 2001 and later promoted him to defensive coordinator.

Muschamp now prepares to lead the Gators in his first big SEC showdown as a head coach.

“I’ve got great respect for Nick and the job he does,” Muschamp said during his press conference on Monday. “I wouldn’t be probably standing here today if it weren’t for the opportunity he gave me at LSU to be a position coach and then naming me the coordinator. We’re again philosophically on the same page as far as what we want to be defensively from an identity standpoint.”

Alabama (4-0) looked very impressive last Saturday in a 38-14 win over then-No. 14 Arkansas. The defense looks as good as advertised. A.J. McCarron has settled in very well as the starting quarterback, Trent Richardson is tearing up opposing defenses, and Marquis Maze leads the team in catches and has a punt return for a touchdown. Maze isn’t the deep threat that Julio Jones was in the past, but Maze is capable of turning a short pass play into a touchdown,

Saturday night’s game against the Gators should be Alabama’s toughest test to date.

The Gators are also 4-0 and the offense (averaging 40 points per game) is much improved since last season. New offensive coordinator Charlie Weis has impressed with the ways he’s been using Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps. Florida’s passing game hasn’t been great (just 202 yards per game), but the rushing attack is rolling up 259 yards per game. Rainey has 411 yards on just 63 carries (6.5 avg.) and Demps has 320 yards on 34 carries (9.4 avg.).

The game will also feature two solid defenses. Alabama is second nationally in total defense, while Florida is fifth.

A big key will be Alabama’s defense against Florida’s offensive speed. The Gators need quarterback John Brantley to have success throwing the ball downfield. Florida can’t pull the upset by just having Rainey and Demps run against Alabama. A balanced attack is necessary.

The Gators have a fast and talented defense that can make plays. The Crimson Tide also needs McCarron to make plays throwing the ball. Florida will be focused on stopping Richardson.

With defense expected to play a huge part in the game, does either coach have the advantage?

“There is no advantage,” Muschamp said. “He knows me as well as I know him. So there is no advantage in this game. And thank goodness for the 90,000 people in the Swamp and for the millions watching, he or I will not take a snap Saturday night.”

Other big games on Saturday:

No. 14 Texas A&M vs. No. 18 Arkansas at Cowboys Stadium, Arlington (12 p.m., ESPN): Both teams are coming off their first losses of the season. This is actually a preview of a future SEC rivalry with Texas A&M moving to the conference next season. The Aggies had a 20-3 halftime lead at home against Oklahoma State, then collapsed in the second half and lost 30-29. Arkansas looked overmatched in a 38-14 loss at Alabama.

No. 13 Clemson at No. 11 Virginia Tech (6 p.m., ESPN2): A big ACC game and a possible preview of the conference title game. Clemson is sitting at 4-0 after two nice wins over Auburn and Florida State. Those games, however, were at Death Valley and this week it’s a road trip north to raucous Lane Stadium. Clemson’s Tajh Boyd has already thrown for 1,255 yards and 13 touchdowns. It will be a nice matchup with Boyd and the Clemson offense going against Virginia Tech’s superb defense, which is giving up just 10 points per game.

No. 8 Nebraska at No. 7 Wisconsin (8 p.m., ABC): Nebraska is welcomed to the Big Ten with a road trip to Camp Randall. The Cornhuskers’ defense, which was expected to be strong this season, has been a bit shaky thus far. But the defense should be back at full strength with Jared Crick, Lavonte David and Alfonzo Dennard together again on Saturday. That’s good because Wisconsin is averaging nearly 49 points per game. Wisconsin, ranked seventh nationally in total defense, will need to stop Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez. This could be a preview of the inaugural Big Ten title game.