GAME NOTES: No college football game has ever featured two teams with more combined bowl victories than the 80th Sugar Bowl, as the 11th-ranked Oklahoma Sooners take on the third-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Thursday night.
Oklahoma, which has 27 bowl wins to its credit, brings a 10-2 record into this contest, and the team has won three straight and five of its last six games overall. The Sooners, who went 7-2 in Big 12 Conference play to finish in a three-way tie for second place, are appearing in their seventh Sugar Bowl, the most of any school outside of the SEC, and they are 4-2 all-time in the event.
OU's last appearance in the Sugar Bowl was in 2004 when it lost the BCS National Championship to LSU, 21-14. Its last victory in the game came in a 14-0 final against Penn State back in 1972.
The Sooners are making their 47th bowl appearance, earning their 15th straight bowl bid under head coach Bob Stoops. Only three schools have longer active consecutive streaks reaching a bowl game -- Virginia Tech (21), Georgia (17) and Georgia Tech (17). The Sooners have an all-time bowl record of 27-18-1, and have won three of their last four bowl appearances.
A win in this game would give Oklahoma its 10th season of at least 11 victories under Stoops.
"The University of Oklahoma is looking forward to the challenge of competing against the University of Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl," said Stoops. "The Allstate Sugar Bowl has long been a marquee postseason destination, and we're excited about the University of Oklahoma being selected to play in a BCS game once again."
The Crimson Tide are making a record 14th appearance in the Sugar Bowl, and the team owns the Sugar Bowl record with eight wins. The last Sugar Bowl appearance for Alabama was following the 2008 season when it took on Utah. However, the Sugar Bowl hosted the 2012 BCS National Championship Game, in which the Crimson Tide defeated conference rival LSU, 21-0, to win their 14th national title.
Alabama is appearing in its sixth BCS bowl game, and the fifth in the last six seasons under head coach Nick Saban.
The Tide, who own an 11-1 record with their only loss coming in the regular- season finale against intrastate rival Auburn (34-28), have played in more bowl games (61) and earned more bowl wins (34) than any school in college football history. Alabama is making its seventh consecutive bowl appearance under head coach Nick Saban, and the 10th straight overall for the school.
"I know Alabama and the Sugar Bowl have a rich tradition together, and we are thrilled to have the opportunity to play such a tremendous program like the University of Oklahoma," said Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron. "The Sugar Bowl gives us a chance to play our final game together on one of the grandest stages college football has to offer."
Alabama (11-1 overall) and Oklahoma (10-2) have met four times previously, but are facing each other for the first time since 2003. Oklahoma owns a 2-1-1 series lead over the Crimson Tide, with two of the games taking place in the postseason.
Despite an overabundance of talent, the Oklahoma offense was a bit inconsistent this season. Sure there were explosive efforts like those against Tulsa (51 points), Iowa State (48 points) and Kansas State (41 points), but there were also some lackluster showings against the likes of West Virginia (16 points), TCU (20 points), Texas (20 points) and Baylor (12 points). Overall, the Sooners posted averages of 31.8 points and 422.5 yards per game, with the run (235.8 ypg) outproducing the pass (186.7 ypg) most of the time.
The season began with uncertainty at the quarterback position, although junior Blake Bell eventually cemented himself as the starter. Bell completed 60.1 percent of his passes for 1,648 yards, 12 TDs and five interceptions, and senior Jalen Saunders proved to be the team's top option down field, as he hauled in 56 balls for 654 yards and six scores. Sophomore Sterling Shepard was also effective in catching 44 passes for 540 yards and six TDs. As for the OU ground game, senior Brennan Clay spearheaded the attack with 957 yards and six scores, while Damien Williams also got in on the act with 553 yards and seven scores before being dismissed from the team in late November.
The Oklahoma defense was largely effective in holding foes to 21.3 points and 336.3 yards per contest. Opponents generated 138.3 ypg on the ground and 198.0 ypg through the air, while converting only 33 percent of their third-down opportunities. The Sooners were credited with 26 sacks while allowing only 14, and they logged 20 turnovers.
Sophomore linebacker Frank Shannon was the most active defender on the team, making 85 stops, while second-year defensive end Charles Tapper was a disruptive force in the backfield with 9.0 TFL, which includes 5.5 sacks. In the secondary, senior Gabe Lynn recorded three of the team's 14 interceptions, while freshman Zack Sanchez paces the club in both passes defended (13) and PBU (12).
Led by its veteran signal caller, the Alabama offense was responsible for 38.8 points and 448.9 yards per game during the regular season. McCarron, who won both the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm and Maxwell Awards, completed 67.6 percent of his passes for 2,676 yards, 26 TDs and only five picks. The team doesn't have that one sure-fire stud running down field, as sophomore Amari Cooper, senior Kevin Norwood and junior Christion Jones each have 36 receptions for a combined 1,502 yards and 13 TDs. As for the 'Bama run game, sophomore T.J. Yeldon has been the workhorse with 1,163 yards and 13 scores, although fellow sophomore Kenyan Drake has also been effective in accounting for 694 yards and eight scores.
Alabama owns one of the top defensive units in the country, finishing the regular season ranked second in points allowed (11.3 ppg) and fifth in total defense (274.7 ypg). The Tide have been particularly stingy against the pass (166.3 ypg, fourth), while also doing a tremendous job defending the run (108.3 ypg, 11th). The unit is tops in the SEC with regard to an opponent's third-down conversion rate (.335), while also turning the trick on fourth down (.222) and in red zone scoring (.636).
Senior linebacker C.J. Mosley, the 2013 Butkus Award winner, is one of busier defensive players in the SEC, ranking in a tie for fourth place with 102 total tackles, which includes a team-high 9.0 TFL. His closest teammate (sophomore DB Landon Collins) has 61 stops, and no player has more than 5.5 sacks (freshman defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson) or two picks (three guys).
Saban, who recently received a lucrative contract extension from Alabama after his name was bandied about with regard to the pending opening at the University of Texas, knows his team will have its hands full against a very good Oklahoma squad. But the Tide are the better team in this matchup, and they should be able to make enough big plays to claim another BCS bowl win.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Alabama 35, Oklahoma 20