It’s the most bittersweet time of the year. All of the Christmas gifts have been unwrapped and that means the regular season of college football has sadly come to an end, but the wonderful bowl season is just beginning. While the bowls began right before Christmas, most of the marquee match-ups start on New Year’s Day, which includes the beginning of the final BCS Bowl Games. For the SEC, the farewell tour for the BCS begins down in New Orleans for a match-up of perennial powers as Oklahoma and Alabama do battle in the Sugar Bowl.
Game Overview: The season outlook for these teams were much different than where they currently sit. Alabama was deemed the favorite to make it to the BCS title game and claim their third straight title. For Oklahoma, after a humiliating loss to Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl, and the graduation of their starting quarterback, the Sooners looked to be in a rebuilding mode. Fast forward to the end of the season and Alabama literally suffered a last second loss that cost them a shot at an undisputed dynasty. Oklahoma, minus a few road bumps, exceeded their mediocre expectations.
After a week two showdown with Johnny Manziel, which saw them give up 628 yards and 42 points, there were questions about whether this Crimson Tide team was good enough to win the national title. Over the next nine games, Alabama gave up an average of 5.56 points, with the most being 17 to LSU, a team the Tide beat by 21. A national title seemed inevitable for Alabama, until the Iron Bowl. In one of the most improbable and exciting finishes ever, Auburn returned a missed field goal for a touchdown to steal a victory and SEC Championship berth from the Tide.
Oklahoma was looking for a quarterback to replace Landry Jones. Coming out of fall camp Trevor Knight was named the starting QB, but he had a bit of trouble in the first two games and ended up bruising his knee against West Virginia. Enter Blake Bell. The “Belldozer” was the bruising running quarterback brought in as a change of pace, but in his first two starts Bell tossed four touchdowns and no interceptions. Oklahoma looked to have things settled and heading in the right direction, but Bell had a horrendous game against the struggling Texas Longhorns and the Sooners lost their first game at the hands of their rivals. Bell’s struggles would cost him to lose the starting job to Trevor Knight again. Oklahoma would go on to only drop one more game, against Big XII winner Baylor, but would go on to close out the season strong by costing their in-state rival the conference championship. That win came as Blake Bell entered the game for an injured Knight and he led the Sooners to the big win.
How Alabama Can Win: Per usual for a Nick Saban team, defense is key. The Tide are only giving up 11.3 points per game good for #2 in scoring defense in the nation. The strength of their defense is their rushing defense. They are only giving up 108 yards on the ground per game. This will be key, because Oklahoma’s offensive strength lies in their running game. While Alabama’s pass defensive numbers look impressive (ranked 4th in passing defense) their secondary has been susceptible all year. The best two passers Alabama faced all year (Johnny Manziel and Zach Mettenberger) both put up at least 240 yards in the air, well above the Tide’s 166 yards per game. Fortunately, Blake Bell isn’t the passer those two are. Offensively, the Tide just needs to stay the course. Run the ball and let McCarron throw off of play action. Alabama averages 212 yards on the ground, with 236 in the air. That kind of balance is difficult for anyone to stop.
How Oklahoma Can Win: In a league typically thought of as all about passing, this year’s Oklahoma team is fueled by the run. The Sooner’s passing game ranks 99th in the nation averaging 187 yards per game. Oklahoma’s rushing attack currently ranks 18th in the nation and has truly been a team effort with three players that have at least 400 yards on the season. The leading rusher is Brennan Clay with 913 yards and averaging 5.8 yards per carry. What really will make this offense a handful for Alabama is the zone read element with Bell. It is well documented that Alabama has had problems with mobile quarterbacks featured as a heavy part of the offense. The Sooners have to exploit that weakness. With an offense dependent on the run, the Sooners best chance comes via their defense. The Sooners rank 22nd in scoring defense, 27th in rushing defense, and 15th in pass defense. The Sooners will try to contain the explosive plays in the pass game and make it a grinding game.
Our Prediction: On paper, Alabama is the better team. The only question is what will the Crimson Tide’s motivation be for this game. In 2009 the Tide lost their last game which cost them a shot at a national title. They then went down to New Orleans and laid an egg against Utah. This team has thought only of the national title all year and came up just short, it is reasonable to think that Alabama will come out flat. That is Oklahoma’s chance. If the Sooners can establish their running game early and jump out to a lead they have a chance. The Tide has let the better teams they’ve played this year jump out early on them, but their defense clamps down and lets the offense take over. Oklahoma will punch Alabama in the mouth early, but the Tide will recover and the leadership of seniors like AJ McCarron will come through again. Alabama comes back to win comfortably 38-20 to end their era of domination.
Who do you think will take down the Sugar Bowl? Let us know in the comments!