Christopher Smith
Author

Sugar Bowl Primer: Oklahoma vs. Alabama

Jan 01, 2014 11:39 PM EST

Auburn’s late-season surge to the BCS championship game may only be approached in terms of surprise quotient by Oklahoma’s climb to a BCS bowl. The overachieving Sooners scratched past Oklahoma State on the road and leveraged its fan base into the final at-large slot ahead of Oregon.

Just being in the game may temporarily quiet criticism of Bob Stoops, who was the Nick Saban of college football a decade ago. Stoops, Mike Gundy and the Big 12 have done plenty of chirping all season in the general direction of the SEC. But this is a clear mismatch on paper, with Alabama holding a distinct advantage.

It's also the final college game for AJ McCarron, perhaps the most accomplished quarterback in Tide history.

Alabama

Motivation: We’ve seen the Tide appear unmotivated in a BCS bowl after losing a national title shot before (2009 Sugar Bowl). How will Alabama respond after a gut-punch loss that kept it from the SEC and BCS championship game in favor of in-state rival Auburn?

If You’ve Never Seen Them: Before the Iron Bowl disaster (four missed FGs, allowed 100-yard touchdown return) the staple of this Tide team was its balance. Normally predicated on running the ball and playing defense, the 2013 version of Alabama generally exhibits more balance on offense and claims one of its stronger special teams iterations.

Weakness: It depends on the day. Auburn anomaly aside, the team’s skill players occasionally struggle with ball security and its cornerbacks do not typify the lock-down, man-on-man studs we’ve come to expect from a Saban/Kirby Smart defense.

Oklahoma

Motivation: No one outside of Norman, Okla., is giving the Sooners much hope, including Football.com, Las Vegas and the rest of the country. But Oklahoma would make a clear statement that it’s still part of the power-broker elite of college football rather than a lucky survivor with a Sugar Bowl win.

If You’ve Never Seen Them: H-back Trey Millard, Oklahoma’s best player and a first-team all-Big 12 selection, is out for the season due to injury. Yet Trevor Knight, Blake Bell and Brennan Clay still have been able to find running room behind a physical line, and the team’s 18th-ranked rush offense is its best asset.

Weakness: The defense can be exploited by good teams (Texas, Texas Tech, Baylor and Kansas State all scored at least 30 points), but it’s the offense’s lack of explosion that’s the biggest issue. Quarterbacks Knight and Bell, competing most of the year, aren’t typical Big 12 gunslingers, and the Sooners’ best skill player, Jalen Saunders, has just two games with at least 75 receiving yards.

Las Vegas Hilton Line: Alabama -17.

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