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December 1, 2006
SEC Championship Preview: Arkansas vs. Florida
"Wanna compare the "mighty" gator offense to our "one-deminsional" attack. Ark avg's 4 more pts/game, 65 more total yrds/gm, and 120 more rush yards/gm than the gators did against the head to head competition. I will give that the gators did manage to avg 54 more yds/gm through the air than the hogs. Based on the head to head, I think I like the Hogs chances."
-- HogFanJW on the The Razor's Edge message board on HawgSports.com.
Chris Leak will go down in history as one of the most productive quarterbacks to play for the Florida Gators.
He already has thrown more completions than any other Florida quarterback. He needs just 65 more yards to pass Danny Wuerffel as the school's career leader in passing yardage.
But there's one area in which Leak falls short.
Wuerffel, Rex Grossman and even Terry Dean won SEC championship games during their Florida careers.
"So many people are interested in passing yardage and a variety of things," Florida coach Urban Meyer said, "but the bottom line is have you taken your team to the championship game in Atlanta. There's been a tradition of great quarterbacks through here in the '90s. If you really study Florida, that's how you're evaluated."
Leak finally has taken the Gators to Atlanta, but he still must close the deal.
His last chance at a conference title comes Saturday when Florida (11-1) faces Arkansas (10-2) in the SEC championship game at the Georgia Dome (7 p.m., CBS).
"That's one of the reasons I came here, to win championships," Leak said. "You come here to compete for them. Just to get one under your belt - especially your senior year - it would be a great feeling. It would be a great way to finish off your senior year."
As the fourth-ranked team in the latest Bowl Championship Series standings, the Gators might not have to settle for a mere SEC championship. If UCLA upsets No. 2 Southern California and Florida beats No. 9 Arkansas convincingly, the Gators have an outside chance of leapfrogging No. 3 Michigan and earning the right to face Ohio State in the BCS championship game Jan. 8 at Glendale, Ariz.
Although the defense has carried Florida to title contention, Leak also has played a major role in the Gators' success.
He rallied Florida from a 10-point deficit to beat Tennessee in an early season game and led a fourth-quarter comeback against South Carolina three weeks ago. Leak struck again last week with a tiebreaking 25-yard touchdown pass to Dallas Baker in the fourth quarter of a 21-14 triumph over Florida State.
"He has an arm that's going 100 mph," Arkansas defensive end Jamaal Anderson said. "He's very accurate. He knows where he wants to throw it."
Leak has completed 64 percent of his passes for 2,540 yards with 21 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions this year, but his contributions have gone beyond his statistics.
The fourth-year starter also has shed his soft-spoken ways to emerge as more of a team leader.
"So much of playing quarterback, at least in our opinion, is you're the manager," Meyer said. "You're the coach on the field. You're the director. You've got to get guys lined up. You've got to make sure the offensive line is getting to the line of scrimmage. You've got to take control. You've got to come up with suggestions. You're the guy out there pulling the trigger. Chris came up to me and made suggestions. He never did that before."
That new attitude has impressed his teammates and helps explain why Florida's defensive players have never lost faith in the offense, even though the Gators haven't scored more than 28 points in any SEC games this year.
"Chris has changed a lot," Florida defensive tackle Ray McDonald said. "He's more outspoken now. He really gives his opinion on things. He's more of a leader now. In the past, Chris was kind of quiet about stuff, but he got out of that little shell. Him being more vocal has really helped the team. When a quarterback can speak up and is saying a lot of things, it gives a team confidence."
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The other starting quarterback in this game insists he hasn't lost any confidence despite playing poorly in the Razorbacks' 31-26 loss to Louisiana State last week.
Arkansas sophomore Casey Dick went 3-of-17 for 29 yards against LSU. The Razorbacks wasted a brilliant performance from Heisman Trophy candidate Darren McFadden, who rushed for 182 yards against LSU to bring his SEC-leading season total to 1,485.
The matchup between Arkansas' potent rushing attack and Florida's fifth-ranked run defense has received most of the attention this week, but the Razorbacks won't beat the Gators without a better performance from their quarterback.
"That was probably the worst game I've ever played, to be honest," Dick said. "We'll get things corrected. Come Saturday, we'll be a different ball team."
These two teams have much in common.
Both find unconventional ways of getting their best players the ball. Florida compensates for its lack of tailback production by giving carries to talented freshman quarterback Tim Tebow and wideout Percy Harvin. Arkansas often lines up McFadden at quarterback in its now-famous "Wildcat'' formation.
In at least one respect, however, these teams aren't alike at all.
Florida considers this trip to the SEC championship game long overdue after winning division titles almost annually in the 1990s. Arkansas has never won an SEC championship game and emerged as one of the nation's biggest surprises this year after enduring back-to-back losing seasons.
"It'd be big to bring (the title) back to Fayetteville," Anderson said. "The whole state would be excited because of this. We have a lot to prove this weekend."
So does Leak.