When Auburn’s Chris Davis Jr. did the unthinkable in the Iron Bowl by returning Crimson Tide kicker Adam Griffith’s missed field goal 109 yards for a miraculous touchdown as time expired, two things happened. First, the Crimson Tide were knocked out of BCS Championship contention. Second, not even Alabama got screwed over more by that returned field goal than Oklahoma.
Sure, I get that while they won’t admit it, going to the Sugar Bowl is a disappointment for Alabama. But the difference is no matter what, Alabama was going to get a match up against a team they could likely beat. Face it, the Tide are a colossal mismatch for anybody outside of Auburn, Florida State, and possibly Michigan State or Stanford. But the same can’t be said for Oklahoma.
In the middle of November, the BCS was a longshot for Oklahoma. To put it in poker terms, they were in with a pair of deuces, and everybody else at the table had a better opening hand. Then, the cards started coming the Sooners way; they started looking at a solid possibility for them to sneak into a BCS game they could win. Their in-state rivals did them a huge favor in taking down Big 12-leading Baylor. Then they did them an even bigger favor by dropping the Bedlam game to Oklahoma. All of a sudden, the Sooners were staring straight into a “nut” flush draw, and WHAM! That returned field goal was the card that not only broke Oklahoma’s dream, it virtually ensured the Sooners would be facing a pissed-off Alabama squad.
Before Davis’ 109-yard romp, Oklahoma was most likely looking at a BCS date in the Orange Bowl, probably against a very beatable Clemson team. The Fiesta Bowl against Central Florida was also in the cards. But once Davis crossed the goal line with that missed kick under his arm, those scenarios all went out the window. See, the Sugar Bowl committee is contractually obligated to get the SEC champion, unless that team is going to the BCS Championship game, in which case they get first-pick of which BCS-eligible team they want to replace the SEC champion. Once Alabama was available for them, do you really think they were going to pass on the best team in the country which has an insanely-devoted fan base, most of whom are with in a 5-hour drive of New Orleans. To top it off, once the Sugar Bowl folks took an at-large team, they were basically stuck with the Automatic-Qualifier conference winner that nobody else wanted, ergo Oklahoma.
Having said that, let’s look at why Oklahoma has scant little shot to win this game.
First and foremost, Alabama is the 800-pound gorilla of college football. The Tide are 36-3 dating back to 2011, and they smother opponents with a multi-threat offense and a punishing, physical defense. Nick Saban is 5-1 in bowl games at Alabama, and this Crimson Tide squad is just as talented as the last two which went on to win national championships.
In contrast, the Sooners are the prototypical overachiever. Somehow, the Sooners managed 10 wins despite rotating between three quarterbacks; Trevor Knight, Blake Bell, and Kendal Thompson. That is why the Sooners battled through inconsistent quarterback play, and suffered some weak defensive performances as well. Despite that, they did end the season on a positive note by posting a three-game winning streak including a season-ending 33-24 triumph over Oklahoma State.
The thing about the Sooner quarterbacks begs the first question here: Who starts under center for Oklahoma? Alabama ranks second nationally in scoring defense and fifth in total defense, which is why nobody should be surprised the Sooners are looking to gain any tactical advantage they can get. Stoops isn’t expected to reveal his starting quarterback until minutes before kickoff; the idea being that doing so forces Alabama to prepare for the two most likely starters, Knight and Bell.
While both quarterbacks are classic “run-first” types, but they are still significantly different. Knight is a speedy, athletic threat who thrives in read-option packages, while Bell is a physical, between-the-tackles runner who prefers to line up in the spread. Bell is the more proficient passer of the two, completing 60% of his attempts, compared to Knight’s 52%.
Frankly, we don’t think there much value in any tactical advantage Bob Stoops may think he gets from cloaking who his starter will be. Whoever lines up under center for Oklahoma is going to face a defense led by defensive end Ed Stinson and linebackers Trey DePriest and C.J Mosley which has given up just 108.3 rushing yards per game.
The best thing the Sooners can do to give themselves a fighting chance is to concentrate on stopping Tide quarterback AJ McCarron, running back T.J. Yeldon and wide receiver Amari Cooper. They are the spark plugs that fire the Alabama offense, and it was limiting them that allowed Auburn to stay close to the Tide.
But that may be a tall order. Simply put, nobody knows if Oklahoma’s defense can stop a quality opponent. At first glance, the numbers make the Sooner defense look pretty solid. They allowed just 336.3 total yards and 21.3 points per game, good enough to rank Oklahoma 14th and 21st in those categories respectively. However, once you start peeling back the onion, you see that they are much more flawed.
Oklahoma’s two best opponents, Texas and Baylor, combined to gash the Sooners for a combined 904 yards, including 510 on the ground. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops’ unit features a number of NFL-caliber standouts, including linebacker Eric Striker, and defensive backs Aaron Colvin and Gabe Lynn. But the Sooners as a unit are also undersized, something that could cause major against the Tide rushing attack. If Alabama can control the ball with the run and allow more chances for McCarron’s play-action passes, this game could get out of hand quickly.
Not to mention, as we alluded to in our preview piece, Alabama doesn’t have recent fond memories of the Sugar Bowl. It was just back in 2009 that the tide came into New Orleans as a two-touchdown-plus favorite, and gagged against Utah. A repeat of that situation seems unlikely, if for no other reason than Alabama has far too much veteran leadership. On Thursday night, the Crimson Tide will be sending off one of the most distinguished senior classes in college football history. Among those playing their final collegiate games in New Orleans will be McCarron, Mosley, wide receivers Kenny Bell and Kevin Norwood, guard Anthony Steen and punter Cody Mandell.
The Bottom Line:
Vegas likes the Tide to the tune of 15.5 points, with an Over/Under of 51.5. Both of those numbers seem pretty safe; Alabama just has too many weapons, and Oklahoma has just too many holes.