TEAMS: Oklahoma (10-2, 7-2 Big-12) vs. Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC)
TIME: January 2nd, 8:30 p.m. EST
No BCS Bowl game can match the storied traditions that can be found in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The #3 Alabama Crimson Tide from the SEC will do battle in the Mercedes Benz Superdome against the #11 Oklahoma Sooners from the Big-12. Both teams can trace their legacies through the iconic coaches that have graced both teams’ respective sidelines.
For the Sooners, you can go back to the legendary Bud Wilkinson, whose 1954-1956 teams did not lose a single game, to Barry Switzer’s Sooner squads who won three national titles (’74, ’75, and ’85), to Bob Stoops, the current head coach at Oklahoma. Stoops’ 2000 Sooners team won the BCS National title by defeating Florida State in the Orange Bowl. With a win in the Sugar Bowl tonight Stoops will tie Penn State’s Joe Paterno as the only coach to win the Sugar, Rose, Orange, Fiesta, and Cotton Bowls. Stoops has been a model of consistency at the helm of the Oklahoma ship. In his 15 seasons guiding the Sooners, Stoops has been to a BCS Bowl game in nine of those seasons, including this year.
In recent years, however, the Sooners brand has not gotten the same national respect as some of their SEC counterparts like Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide. Since the 2010 season, the Oklahoma Sooners have won 42 games, tasting defeat only 10 times (.808 winning percentage). They won two bowls in that span, as well. So, it comes as no surprise that Coach Stoops became testy and agitated this week when the media portrayed he and the Sooners as a mere “consolation game” for Saban’s Crimson Tide. Both men parlayed some jabs through the media, but no doubt, Stoops has used the fact that his team is a 17-point underdog to motivate his team.
If Stoops and the Sooners are going to pull of the upset they are going to have to get solid play from the quarterback position. At a position where Alabama has gotten consistent play from senior AJ McCarron, Oklahoma has rotated in three players, Trevor Knight, Blake Bell, and Kendal Thompson. Coach Stoops has said his quarterback for the Sugar Bowl will be a “game-time decision”. Indecision at a time when decisiveness is needed certainly won’t help the Sooners, but they have been a resilient team all season long.
The Sooners started the 2013 campaign by winning their first five games including on the road at Notre Dame and a hard-fought home win over TCU. While many pundits pegged Oklahoma as a front-runner to play in the BCS National Title game after five games, it wasn’t meant to be. A sound drubbing at the hands of its rival Texas in the Red River Rivalry derailed the plans of Sooner fans for a trip to Pasadena to play for the national title. The Sooners won their next two games, including a win over then tenth-ranked Texas Tech before losing to Bryce Petty and #6 Baylor. The Sooners capped off their season by winning their last three games of the year, including the season finale over Oklahoma State in the “Bedlam” game.
While Oklahoma is unsettled at the quarterback position, it is without question that strength of the Sooner offense lies with their running game. Oklahoma was second in the Big 12 in rushing yards per game with 235.83 yards per game. Seniors Brennan Clay and Damien Williams were the workhorses at the running back position. Combined, both men rushed for nearly 1,500 (1,466) yards and 13 scores. Aiding both men was the running capability of quarterback Bell, nicknamed the ”Bell-dozer”. Bell was a near-automatic in goal line situations in 2012 and 2011 as he amassed 24 rushing touchdowns. In 2013, teams were ready for his bruising running style. He did not record a single rushing score this year. Bell’s ability, if he is names the starter for the Sugar Bowl, will be pivotal to the success of the Sooners if they are to defeat Alabama.
Out on the edges, the Sooners will rely on the speed and the hands of senior receivers Jalen Saunders and sophomore Sterling Shepard. Saunders led the team with 56 pass receptions for 654 yards and six touchdowns, but Shepard also hauled in 44 passes for 540 yards and six touchdowns. The duo will keep the Crimson Tide DBs plenty busy.
While the ability of the Oklahoma Sooners to move the ball on offense against the Alabama Crimson Tide defense will be key to their success, it may just be the ability of the Sooners defense to make life for Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron miserable that will be the tell-tale sign in the Sugar Bowl.