Two weeks ago, the No.3 Alabama Crimson Tide appeared poised to play for the national title for a third straight year. Instead, the defending champs will have to settle for facing No.11 Oklahoma Sooners in the 2014 Sugar Bowl.
The Crimson Tide had been the best team in college football all year, winning 11 straight as they entered their contest with Auburn on Nov. 30. However, four missed field goals and 109-yard touchdown return by the Tigers’ Chris Davis ended Alabama’s chances of a three-peat.
“Every bowl game is an opportunity for your team to prove who they are,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said, according to the Montgomery Advertiser. “You want to play for your seniors. They have had a great career. There’s some disappointment in how we finished the season (with the Iron Bowl loss), but we are not disappointed in playing the Sugar Bowl and a great team. Hopefully, we can prove what kind of team we are.”
Oklahoma’s road to the Sugar Bowl was quite different. While the Crimson Tide were defeated and relegated to the Sugar Bowl, the Sooners made a final push to reach the bowl game. On Saturday, they upset then-No.6 Oklahoma State in their biggest victory of the 2013 season. The win prevented the Cowboys from clinching the Big 12 title.
Since the Crimson Tide have been much more dominant this season, they enter the game as heavy favorites. According to the betting line at most Las Vegas casinos, the Sooners are a 15-point underdog. Only Central Florida are getting more points out of any team in a BCS bowl. Both teams are 7-5 against the point spread.
While the Crimson Tide have not had much trouble scoring, it’s their defense that kept them at the center of the national championship picture for almost the whole year. Only the Florida State Seminoles give up less than their 11.3 points allowed per game. In nine of their 12 games, Alabama surrendered 10 points or less, including three shutouts.
It’s not clear which quarterback will get the start and go up against the Alabama defense. Blake Bell helped propel the Sooners to their win over Oklahoma State, as he replaced the injured Trevor Knight. Bell has received the majority of time under center, throwing for 1,648 yards, 12 touchdowns and five interceptions. However, Knight got the call in the last game of the season, but was forced to leave the contest when he separated his non-throwing shoulder. Bell started the game as the third option, but eventually replaced backup Kendal Thompson.
"I was just thinking that whenever I got my opportunity, I wanted to do the best I could with Trevor going down and Kendal coming in," Bell said, following the victory over Oklahoma State. "Once I got into the rhythm of the play, I felt like everything was clicking."
The Tide are led by the most consistent college quarterback in recent years. A.J. McCarron is in his third straight season as the team’s starter. He likely won’t win the Heisman Trophy this year, but he’s expected to be a finalist with 26 touchdowns passes and five interceptions.
In recent seasons, the SEC has been dominant against Big 12 teams in bowl games. The Cotton Bowl, which pits the two conferences against each other, has seen the SEC school win in nine of the last 10 years. The only Big 12 team to emerge victorious in that time, Missouri, will represent the SEC in 2014 matchup.
Betting Odds: Alabama -15
Prediction: Alabama over Oklahoma, 33-17