Thursday, January 2: Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, LA at 8:30 pm EST
#3 Alabama Crimson Tide (11-1) vs. #11 Oklahoma Sooners (10-2)
Two of the most dominant programs in college football history square off in the Sugar Bowl.
Vegas line/spread: Alabama by 17 (over/under 52)
Alabama opened a big 15 point favorite and the line has moved to 17, making the Tide the biggest favorite of the bowl season.
|Game-comparisons||win %||vs. Spread
The Strength power rating agrees, with Alabama at #4 and Oklahoma at #22. Alabama wins about 4 in 5 game comparisons straight up. Against the spread the Sooners have the slight edge.
Strength power rating: Alabama 31, Oklahoma 16 by Median rating: Alabama 33-14
Alabama scoring offense: #13 vs. Oklahoma scoring defense: #17
Alabama scoring defense: #2 vs. Oklahoma scoring offense: #37
Our power rating basically reflects what the oddsmakers are saying, with the Tide a 15-point favorite. They rank better on both offense and defense than the Sooners. When Alabama has the ball it's a fair game, but not the other way around.
Yardage analysis: Alabama 24, Oklahoma 13 per-play: Alabama 38, Oklahoma 22
Yardage differential: Alabama #5 vs. Oklahoma #26
Alabama total offense: #29 vs. Oklahoma total defense: #14
Alabama total defense: #1 vs. Oklahoma total offense: #51
By yardage things look really bad for Oklahoma's offense, which ranks just 51st and has to face the most yardage-stingy defense in the nation. By this comparison Alabama gains less than 400 yards and Oklahoma less than 300, and scoring is very muted.
The per-play comparison shows Alabama netting a yard more per carry and per pass attempt than the Sooners.
Adjustments to yardage estimate: Alabama 30, Oklahoma 10
- Interceptions: Alabama has a slight edge here as AJ McCarron doesn't throw many picks. We give the Tide a point.
- Forced fumbles: Oklahoma is #122 in forcing fumbles, so Alabama gains over 2 points.
- Sacks: This is a dead heat. We see a strong chance of fewer than 2 sacks each, so we add about 1 1/2 points to both teams' totals.
- Red zone%: A BIG advantage for the Tide. They're #1 in red zone defense and could hold Oklahoma to 40% of possible points, docking them 3 1/2. Alabama should score normally in the red zone (about 70%)
- 3rd-down%: Again, we don't see Alabama converting more than the average 40% of 3rd downs, but they could hold the Sooners lower than that. We dock Oklahoma almost 2 points here.
- Special Teams: Alabama has the #22 special teams to Oklahoma's #54 unit, a 1 1/2 point difference.
Summary: Alabama started an 11-point favorite by adjusted scrimmage yardage alone and zipped past the Strength power rating spread to end up at 20 points after these adjustments. The Tide pretty much won every category, too; the possibility certainly exists for an Alabama blowout of the Sooners.
When Alabama has the ball
|Alabama rushing offense: #24
||Oklahoma rushing defense: #54
TJ Yeldon rushed for 1,163 yards and Kenyan Drake added 694 for the Tide. Oklahoma's rushing defense is almost top 25 in raw figures but they faced mostly poor rushing teams; their corrected ranking is #54 so they'll probably give up over 200 yards.
|Alabama passing offense: #58||Oklahoma passing defense: #2 per att: #14|
|Alabama interceptions thrown ranking: #6||Oklahoma interceptions picked ranking: #59|
|Alabama quarterback protection rank: #14||Oklahoma pass rush rank: #46|
AJ McCarron finished 2nd in the Heisman vote, mainly for his stellar career and win total, but this year he was particularly effective as he completed 68% of his passes for 2,676 yards and 26 TDs with just 5 interceptions. Amari Cooper and Kevin Norwood were the top two of many targets, combining for over 1,000 yards.
Oklahoma's pass defense is pretty damn good, however. They rank #2 in the nation in per-game yardage after correction, so they might hold Alabama to around 175 passing yards. They don't have too much hope of getting a lot of picks off McCarron, and their pass rush isn't great while Alabama's QB protection is solid. Big plays aren't in the works for Oklahoma but they probably won't need it when defending the pass.
When Oklahoma has the ball
|Oklahoma rushing offense: #19
||Alabama rushing defense: #4
Brennan Clay had 913 yards and Damien Williams 553 with a combined 13 touchdowns. Interestingly, Trevor Knight ended up with far more yardage than Blake Bell (438 to 255) at quarterback. Alabama's rush defense is rock-solid and Oklahoma will be lucky to get 150 yards on the ground.
|Oklahoma passing offense: #90||Alabama passing defense: #8 per att: #17|
|Oklahoma interceptions thrown ranking: #30||Alabama interceptions picked ranking: #70|
|Oklahoma quarterback protection rank: #33||Alabama pass rush rank: #69|
Blake Bell is supposed to be the runner and he passed for 1,648 yards while Trevor Knight had just 471. Bell had 12 TDs and 5 picks while Knight's ratio was 5:4. Not great numbers, especially the completion rates of 60% and 52% respectively. The Sooners don't look like much of a match for Alabama's pass defense and might approach 150 yards.
On the bright side, the Sooners don't have too much to worry about re:interceptions and sacks. Alabama doesn't have that many picks on the year. The Sooner protection is good (14 sacks) and Alabama's pass rush is surprisingly tepid overall.
Alabama's season (11-1)
Wins vs. bowl-eligible teams (6)
Wins vs. BCS Top 25 teams (2)
Losses (1) to losing teams (0)
- = Virginia Tech W 35-10
- @ #21 Texas A&M W 49-42
- Colorado St W 31- 6
- Mississippi W 25- 0
- Georgia St W 45- 3
- @ Kentucky W 48- 7
- Arkansas W 52- 0
- Tennessee W 45-10
- #16 LSU W 38-17
- @ Mississippi St W 20- 7
- Chattanooga W 49- 0
- @ #2 Auburn L 28-34
Alabama started the season #1 and beat four bowl teams in a row at the start. Still, there were questions. They didn't show much offense at all in beating Virginia Tech 35-10 as defense and special teams scored 21 points. Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel again torched the Tide defense, this time for 42 points. The 31-6 Colorado State win and 25-0 Ole Miss shutout answered questions for the defense but not the offense.
After that, Alabama beat four straight losing teams by a combined 190-20 and some questioned whether they'd gone soft against such poor competition. They responded with an emphatic 38-17 beatdown of LSU and once again everyone was convinced. But the Iron Bowl was their undoing. People focus on the breakdown on "field goal return coverage" on the final play, but the bigger question is, if they were such a dominant #1 team why weren't they beating Auburn by 20 points at the time? The question for the bowl game is, how do they recover from that moment and take care of business in "just" the Sugar Bowl?
Oklahoma's season (10-2)
Wins vs. bowl-eligible teams (5)
Wins vs. BCS Top 25 teams (1)
Losses (2) to losing teams (0)
- Louisiana-Monroe W 34- 0
- West Virginia W 16- 7
- Tulsa W 51-20
- @ Notre Dame W 35-21
- TCU W 20-17
- = Texas L 20-36
- @ Kansas W 34-19
- Texas Tech W 38-30
- @ #6 Baylor L 12-41
- Iowa St W 48-10
- @ Kansas St W 41-31
- @ #13 Oklahoma St W 33-24
It's become an Oklahoma tradition: get 10 wins but don't really compete for the national title. This year started off well with a 34-0 shutout of ULM, but they turned out to be worse than expected, as did West Virginia and Tulsa, the Sooners' next two victims. They popped Notre Dame 35-21 on the road and edged TCU and at 5-0 some were declaring the Sooners a BCS title contender.
Certainly, the expectation of blowout out struggling Texas was as high as it has ever been. Following 63-21 last year and 55-17 the year before, it was a foregone conclusion that this year might top both those margins—and then the Sooners got spanked, 36-20, somehow. They barely had time to recover when Baylor flogged them 41-12 to end any hope of sneaking in the BCS race. But the Sooners responded very well and finished strong. In particular, beating rival Oklahoma State on the road 33-24 was an impressive development for a team that could have packed it in.
Alabama could have some offensive line problems; Anthony Steen is reportedly out of the game after shoulder surgery, and Ryan Kelly was listed as questionable (but was practicing, however). But Oklahoma has a two O-linemen who are listed as doubtful, too.
Psychology/Motivation - Some (unscientific) factors that may come into play during the game:
- Alabama's season: +0 wins; Oklahoma's season: +0 wins
- Alabama's momentum: -1 win; Oklahoma's momentum: +0 wins
- Alabama won final game: NO; Oklahoma won final game: YES
- Alabama glad to be there? no; Oklahoma glad to be there: yes
- Alabama time zones from home: 0; Oklahoma time zones from home: 0;
- Alabama coaching situation: stable; Oklahoma coaching situation: stable
Alabama was 11-1 last year, 11-1 this year. Oklahoma 10-2, 10-2. But the Sooners could easily have been out of the BCS bowl picture after their 2nd loss; they fought hard and, with some luck, got the bid. Alabama was sure to be in the title game until that kickoff return. Yes, they're in the Sugar Bowl, but it's not where they want to be. And losing a game like that can linger on, and on.
The question is how they respond. They either make the most of the situation and take out their frustrations on Oklahoma (which could mean an Alabama blowout win) or they let it stew, feel bitter, and come into the game with a bad combination of negative emotion and overconfidence.
Looking at raw yardage rankings, Oklahoma ranks #15 against the pass and #26 against the pass. But after correction for Oklahoma's defense, we see they have the #2 pass defense and just the #54 rush defense; this makes it clear that Alabama should have much more success running the ball than passing.
As for Oklahoma, they face a daunting challenge as they're no good at passing and their ground strength is up against one of the top rushing defenses. They're pretty much stuck with trying to overpower and/or out-execute Alabama's defense, unless Bob Stoops has some new tricks up his sleeve that Nick Saban hasn't anticipated.
That's probably unlikely. And neither is an Oklahoma win over Alabama. It has nothing to do with Saban winning big games and Stoops unable to do so. It's just that this Alabama team is a lot better than this Oklahoma team.
Alabama's sense of letdown after not getting to the BCS title game has to be stark. We've seen them come into the Sugar Bowl flat before—in 2008, they lost to Florida in the SEC title game after going 12-0. Then they lost to Utah 31-17, clearly still reeling from the earlier loss. On the other hand, 2010's 9-3 team showed no letdown as they spanked Michigan State 49-7. That shows again how Alabama might respond in one of two ways. After winning two straight championships, it's hard to see them thinking about making the bowl the first game of next year's campaign. Indignation and overconfidence might be the dominant emotions.
Oklahoma on the other hand responded to their 2nd loss by playing their best 3-game series of the season, and finishing with their best win, beating Oklahoma State on the road. If Oklahoma plays the way they did during that stretch, and Alabama counters with their final 3-game stretch? It's a 6-point Oklahoma win.
Can they do it? There are just too many factors pointing Alabama's way for me to override that with a stab at untangling the teams' emotional state. But I do think Oklahoma can keep it surprisingly close, and have a chance at the end to win it. Remembering Michigan's performance against Ohio State, no one gave the Wolverines a shot but they almost did it. I can see a similar situation, where Oklahoma fights valiantly but falls short on a 2-point try; Bob Stoops coming up empty yet again, but this time getting respect for it.
Prediction: Alabama 24, Oklahoma 23
More previews, odds, and predictions: View the complete 2013-2014 bowl game schedule.