By Scott Crumbly
SEC Digital Network
ORLANDO, Fla. – Not many teams in college football are used to the spotlight of a BCS bowl game quite like the Alabama Crimson Tide, who have played in five such games, including three in the last four seasons. After winning three of the past four BCS National Championships, the No. 3 Tide will be back in a BCS game once again in 2013, this time playing in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.
On the other side of the ball will be another BCS-tested team in No. 11 Oklahoma, which finished second in the Big 12 this season behind a one-loss Baylor squad that was in the national title hunt for much of the season.
Despite not playing for the national crown this year, Alabama (11-1, 7-1 Southeastern Conference) enters New Orleans with plenty of motivation. The Tide has been downright dominant in its recent bowl appearances, and it has a chance to send an outstanding senior class out on a high note against another one of college football’s storied programs.
“We are very proud of what this team has been able to accomplish this year and they certainly deserve the opportunity to be in a BCS bowl game,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “Our senior class has won 60 games I think in the last five years and have had some very good success in bowl games, which the challenge for us is to continue that success for them and our team and the future of our program.”
Oklahoma (10-2, 7-2 Big 12) head coach Bob Stoops said that his Sooners are equally excited to be playing in New Orleans, and his team realizes the magnitude of the challenge set in front of it against Alabama.
“We recognize that we have a great opponent in Alabama, a team that was number one in the country for two or three years now, up until that last play of the game against Auburn, so we’re very aware of what a great team they are,” Stoops told media this week. “Coach Saban has done a great job building and coaching their team and they have a bunch of great athletes so it’s a big challenge but an exciting challenge as well.”
Perhaps the most daunting challenge the Sooners will have to overcome is that of the stout Bama defense.
The Crimson Tide rank first in the SEC in all four major defensive categories – rushing, passing, total and scoring defense – and also rank in the top-11 nationally in each of those departments. Alabama has only allowed three of its 12 opponents to gain more than 300 total yards, and its 11.2-points per game allowed ranks second in college football.
While Blake Bell has been Oklahoma’s number one quarterback, the Sooners have also used redshirt freshman Trevor Knight at times. Alabama linebacker CJ Mosley knows the Tide will need to be ready for either of OU’s talented signal-callers.
“They have one that is more of a passing quarterback – he is tall and a bigger guy,” Mosley said. “The other is more of an athletic quarterback and if we contain him on the pass, he can still get out and scramble. We have to do a good job there both for the linebackers and defensive backs.”
Defensively, the Sooners have been the best in the Big 12 this season. OU is stingy against the pass, allowing fewer than 200 aerial yards per contest, and have also been tough against the run (138 rush yards per game allowed). The Tide, led by running back TJ Yeldon (1,163 yards, 13 TDs), has run for more than 200 yards in seven games and ranks among the nation’s top-10 in terms of yards per rush (5.97).
No matter how the matchups shake out, both teams have given the impression that they will be ready to play come Thursday evening.
“Obviously, they’re a great team, still probably the best in the country except for one crazy play,” said OU offensive linemen Gabe Ikard. “So we’re very excited for the opportunity to see how talented they are and the success they’ve had in the last five years. We have a lot to prove in this game.”
Alabama also knows it will be facing a talented squad, and it took advantage of its extended preparation time with physically grueling practices that Mosley believes will pay dividends at the Super Dome.
“We had our break and got to go home for Christmas, but now we are ready to get our bodies and minds in shape,” Mosley explained. “We had eight great, physical practices before the break and established our plan. Now we just need to pick up where we left off in Tuscaloosa.”
Kickoff from New Orleans is set for 8:30 p.m. Eastern on Thursday, and the game can be viewed nationally on ESPN.
Thursday’s game between Alabama and Oklahoma is the fifth all-time meeting between the two storied programs…Oklahoma has a slight edge on the Crimson Tide in those meetings, owning a 2-1-1 record against Bama…The Tide and Sooners have clashed twice previously in bowl games, but the last post season meeting between the two schools came in the Bluebonnet Bowl back on Dec. 31, 1970, a game that ended in a 24-24 tie.
2003 – Oklahoma 20, Alabama 13 (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
2002 – Oklahoma 37, Alabama 27 (Norman, Okla.)
1970 – Alabama 24, Oklahoma 24 (Bluebonnet Bowl)
1963 – Alabama 17, Oklahoma 0 (Orange Bowl)
A LOOK AT THE LAST MEETING
Eventual Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jason White threw for 259 yards and a pair of scores for Oklahoma, and the Sooners downed the Crimson Tide by a final score of 20-13. White’s two key touchdown passes came on throws of 46 and 47 yards, respectively, and Alabama committed a pair of turnovers that did not help its effort. Brody Croyle threw for 195 yards and a touchdown for the Tide, but he was also picked off twice by the third-ranked Sooners.
PLAYMAKERS – OFFENSE
Alabama – AJ McCarron, Senior, Quarterback
McCarron has been among the nation’s top performers in 2013, as was evidenced by his second-place finish in the Heisman Trophy race. The senior signal-caller has been a beacon of consistency at the helm of an Alabama offense that has averaged over 38 points per game this season. With dangerous receiving options such as Amari Cooper, Kevin Norwood and Christion Jones on the outside, McCarron has no shortage of weapons to choose from in the passing game, and he also excels in making pre-snap adjustments that put the Tide in the right play against a given defensive alignment. McCarron enters the Sugar Bowl with an 8.7 yard per attempt average, which he will put to the test against an OU defense that led the Big 12 in pass defense this season. In the final game of his storied career, expect McCarron to have a big impact for Alabama.
Oklahoma – Quarterbacks Blake Bell and Trevor Knight
While Alabama’s quarterback situation has been rock solid for the last three seasons with AJ McCarron, the Sooners have had a little less stability at the position this year. Blake Bell has taken the majority of the snaps for OU this year, throwing for 1,648 yards and 12 touchdowns this season in 11 games, while also providing a power running option for Bob Stoops’ offense in short yardage situations. Bell has been complemented by redshirt freshman Trevor Knight, who has played in seven games in 2013 while throwing five touchdowns. Stoops’ comments to media upon his team’s arrival in New Orleans suggest that the Tide will need to be prepared for both signal-callers on the evening of Jan. 2: “Well we intend to be unsettled about quarterback all the way up until the game,” Stoops said. “I wouldn’t say it’s unsettled, I would say that it’s purposeful. And let’s face it; both those guys in different situations have really done well so we have to have both of them ready to go.”
PLAYMAKERS – DEFENSE
Alabama – C.J. Mosley, Senior, Linebacker
Mosley has been absolutely outstanding for Alabama in 2013, leading a defense that ranks in the top-11 nationally in all four major defensive categories. Using his unique combination of size and athleticism, Mosley has patrolled the field from sideline-to-sideline on his way to 102 tackles and nine tackles for loss. His performance in the center of Alabama’s defense has garnered national recognition, as Mosley was awarded the Butkus Award as the country’s top linebacker in addition to a unanimous All-America selection and All-SEC first team designation. As has been the case all season long, expect to hear Mosley’s name often during the Sugar Bowl as he and the Tide take on a run-heavy offensive attack from Oklahoma.
Oklahoma – Aaron Colvin, Senior, Defensive Back
A senior, Colvin has been a standout in the defensive backfield for the Sooners in ’13. Colvin has racked up 49 stops, five TFL and a sack to go along with an interception and three pass breakups. His play landed him on the first team All-Big 12 teams as voted by both the league coaches and the Associated Press, and he was named a semi-finalist for the Thorpe Award for the nation’s top defensive back. Against Alabama in New Orleans, Colvin and his comrades in the defensive backfield will be tasked with slowing down a slew of talented Alabama wide-outs, most notably Amari Cooper and Kevin Norwood, who have combined for 1,153 yards and 11 scores on 16 yards per catch. Bama’s AJ McCarron has not shown a propensity for making mistakes in his prolific career, so Colvin and company will need to be on their game inside the Super Dome. “They are very disciplined,” Colvin said of Alabama. “You see the reason why they win ballgames. But any opponent you play, you cannot be scared of them. They are a good team but so are we.”