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Thursday, January 2, 2014

BCS Bowl Preview: Sugar Bowl

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BCS Bowl Preview: Sugar Bowl
By Wild on Sports Analyst Bryan Ridall

This year’s Allstate Sugar Bowl features two perennial college football powerhouses, with #3 Alabama taking on #11 Oklahoma. For Oklahoma, this season was an overachievement, while Alabama suffered the heartbreak of the season, losing both the Iron Bowl and their shot in the BCS National Championship Game because of one of the greatest plays in college football history. This game is going to be a laughable excuse for a BCS bowl game and when it is all said and done, many people are going to be arguing, once again, that Alabama should have been in the National Championship Game.

How Oklahoma Got Here: Oklahoma finished 3rd in the Big 12 this year, and shouldn’t have been in this game, but the Sugar Bowl committee selected Oklahoma over Oregon to face Alabama. Oklahoma has looked extremely unimpressive in Big 12 play, a conference that was extremely underwhelming this year, as shown by Baylor’s domination by UCF. The only impressive wins on their schedule were the defeat of Notre Dame at South Bend and Oklahoma State at Stillwater, allowing the Sooners the spot in the Sugar Bowl. Oklahoma was embarrassed in the Red River Rivalry, by a 3-2 Texas team that looked completely hapless and then was blown out by Baylor 41-12. Oklahoma had to completely reinvent its offense after the second game of the year because of injuries and overall ineffectiveness. After switching to quarterback Blake Bell, Oklahoma gained some consistency within its offense, because Bell’s passing abilities helped open up the running game. Oklahoma finished with six players over 100 yards rushing, including both quarterbacks, and the rushing game accounted for 18 touchdowns. Oklahoma’s receiving corps is rather underwhelming, with no receiver having more than 700 yards and only two receivers having more then 300 yards. Oklahoma’s defense has been its best unit, ranking 15th against the pass and 27th against the run, but only faced three teams in the top 50 offensive units in the country. In order for Oklahoma to have a chance, let alone win, they will need to win the battles in the trenches with their offensive line, allowing their running game to gash Alabama’s defense the way that Auburn did. The Sooners will also need a near-flawless game from their quarterback, but Bob Stoops hasn’t named who his starter will be, due to injuries to both Blake Bell and Trevor Knight, likely a gamesmanship move.

How Alabama Got Here: By now you have seen Chris Davis’s miracle 109-yard missed field goal return that destroyed Alabama’s national title hopes and relegated them to this bowl game. Alabama opened its season with two of its tougher games of the year, handling Virginia Tech in Atlanta, then beating Texas A&M despite Johnny Manziel putting on the greatest offensive show we have ever seen. From there, Alabama went on to dismantle every team it played on its way to the Iron Bowl, including an extremely impressive 38-17 pounding of LSU. A.J. McCarron put together another efficient season, throwing for over 2600 yards with 26 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions. McCarron spread the wealth this year, with seven players eclipsing 150 receiving yards, but his favorite targets were Amari Cooper and Kevin Norwood, who combined for 1,150 yards and 11 touchdowns. As always, Alabama featured a strong two-back running system, using T.J. Yeldon as the workhorse and Kenyan Drake as a change of pace. Yeldon gained 1,163 yards and scored 13 touchdowns on the ground, while Drake added almost 700 yards and 8 touchdowns of his own. Of course, the strength of Alabama is its defense, which allowed the second-fewest points per game of any defense in college football, and only allowed three teams to score over 10 points; LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn. Alabama has the 4th ranked pass defense and the 9th ranked rush defense, despite facing Auburn, the nation’s best rushing team. The biggest unknown surrounding Alabama is how the team responds to the devastating loss to Auburn. The Tide have been stewing on the loss for over a month and if Alabama can’t keep their emotions under control, it could lead to undisciplined play, which would doom Alabama.

Result: Vegas doesn’t think this is going to be much of a game, making Alabama a 16-point favorite, and that might not even be enough. “Big Game Bob” is 1-5 in his last 6 BCS bowl games, including 0-2 against the SEC. Oklahoma can’t stop the run, and you have to believe that after the way the Auburn game, Alabama is going to look to physically obliterate the next team in their path, which happens to be Oklahoma. A.J. McCarron will finish his career with one more big game win to cement his legacy as Alabama’s greatest quarterback.  
 
Alabama: 42, Oklahoma: 14

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