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2014 Allstate Sugar - Oklahoma 45, Bama 31

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jan 3, 2014


2013-2014 Bowls - CFN's Preview & Prediction for the 2014 Allstate Sugar Bowl

Allstate Sugar Bowl
Oklahoma 45, Alabama 31
Basically … In one of the most shocking performances in the history of the BCS, Trevor Knight threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns, coming up with two touchdown passes to Jalen Saunders from eight and 43 yards out in the first half, and hitting Lacoltan Bester on a 45-yard scoring play in the first and Sterling Shepard on a nine-yard pass in the fourth – looking Joe Montana-like to Dwight Clark. But Alabama was able to keep up the pace early, highlighted by a AJ McCarron 67-yard touchdown pass to DeAndrew White in the second quarter, and then it was the Derrick Henry show. The freshman running back tore off a 43-yard touchdown run in the third to pull the Tide within seven, and took a pass 61 yards for a score late in the fourth to once again makie it a seven-point game, but the OU defense took over late. Eric Striker came around the edge to sack McCarron, Geneo Grissom picked up the fumble, and he took it in from eight yards out to put the game away.

- Oklahoma QB Trevor Knight completed 32-of-44 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns with a pick, and he ran five times for seven yards.
- Alabama QB AJ McCarron completed 19-of-30 passes for 387 yards with two touchdowns and two picks.
- Alabama RB Derrick Henry ran eight times for 100 yards and a score and caught a pass for 61 yards and a touchdown.
- Alabama WR DeAndrew White caught three passes for 139 yards and a score, and Amari Cooper caught nine passes for 121 yards.
- Oklahoma DE Eric Striker tied for the team-lead with seven tackles with three sacks and a game-sealing forced fumble that led to a touchdown. - Oklahoma DE Geneo Grissom made two tackles, two sacks, two fumble recoveries, and scores one touchdown.

CFN PREVIEW

Oklahoma (10-2) vs. Alabama (11-1) Jan. 2, 8:30, ESPN

Here’s The Deal … Allow me to reintroduce myself, my name is …

Every once in a while, a great program is able to come up with something shocking out of the blue to make a major statement in a bowl season. These two programs know this all too well, with Alabama sputtering in a 31-17 loss to Utah in the 2009 Sugar, and Oklahoma losing 31-6 to an undermanned Arkansas – coached by Lou Holtz – in the 1978 Orange Bowl along with, of course, the 43-42 all-timer against Boise State in the 2007 Fiesta.

Oklahoma beating Alabama wouldn’t quite be among the greatest stunners in bowl history, but after getting pantsed by Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M in last year’s Cotton Bowl, it would be a chance for Bob Stoops to reestablish the franchise. It would show that Big Game Bob really does have a Big Game Program, even if it didn’t show it off too much this season.

And Alabama has a statement to make, too, but on a much bigger philosophical scale. The Crimson Tide might not have been the dominant force it was on the way to national titles in 2011 and 2012, but the only loss came on the flukiest of fluky endings to Auburn, and there’s still a reasonable thought that in a four team playoff, this would be the team to beat. If your 2014 Allstate Sugar Bowl becomes the Alabama Invitational, and it’s a brutally ugly blowout, no matter what happens in the BCS championship, Nick Saban’s team will finish No. 2 in the final rankings.

But the far more interesting storyline is Oklahoma as it looks to get America to notice it again. Forgetting for a moment that Stoops and OU are on a run of four straight ten-win seasons and seven in the last eight, and blowing off all the success year after year in Big 12 play as a regular in the title hunt, OU has become predictable in its inability to come up with the truly huge wins to take that half-step forward to win the national title again for the first time since shocking the world against Florida State to end the 2000 season.

Of course Oklahoma is supposed to lose to Alabama, because that’s what Oklahoma does against great teams, and winning really big games is what Alabama does on a regular basis.

There’s no dogging a ten-win season in a BCS conference, but the blowout loss to Texas took the Sooners off the national radar, and the 41-12 blasting from Baylor made a BCS appearance seem 1,000 miles away. But one big drive from Blake Bell to lead the way to a stunner over Oklahoma State, and helped by a Northern Illinois loss to Bowling Green in the MAC championship, opened the door. Now the Sooners are in, and they need to show why.

Will motivation be an issue for Alabama? At this point, fair or not, anything less than a national championship is a failure of a season, and while it might be fun and nice to try to finish No. 2, it’s not going to be No. 1. But maybe, just maybe, this is an overrated team pumped up by a relatively mediocre schedule.

Beating LSU was great, but it took everything in the bag to get past Texas A&M, the defense couldn’t handle Auburn, and there were a whole bunch of wins over the Kentuckys, Tennessees, Georgia States and Chattanoogas of the world.

Maybe this isn’t going to be a mismatch after all. Maybe this is Oklahoma’s chance to reinvent how it’s seen on a national scale. Maybe Auburn exposed the Crimson Tide.

Or maybe Alabama comes up with something absolutely brilliant to make everyone wish this was the inaugural year for the College Football Playoff.

The Crimson Tide have won four bowl games in a row since failing to show up for the loss to Utah, earning three national titles in that span and winning all four games in blowouts. The last time OU played an SEC team was in the 2008 BCS championship when Sam Bradford and the high-flying offense was slowed down by the Florida Tebows. The last win over an SEC team came in 2003 with a 20-13 win over Alabama, and now this is just the fifth time these two have met since Alabama first beat OU 17-0 in the 1963 Orange Bowl. Since losing the 1991 Fiesta Bowl to Louisville, the program is 12-4 in bowl games.

The Cotton Bowl performance last year might have been an embarrassment, but Oklahoma won three straight bowl games before that after dropping three in a row – all BCS appearances – and five in six seasons.

On Oklahoma’s side has been the recent trend of good Sugar Bowls with three straight riveting battles after a horrible run of three straight total clunkers. The SEC has lost three of the last four times it’s been in, and Alabama hasn’t won a Sugar Bowl since beating Miami for the 1992 national title.

Players to Watch: It hasn’t been a bad career for AJ McCarron with two national titles as the starter and big performances after big performances when needed most. Lost in the Auburn defeat was a 277-yard, three touchdown, no pick day that would’ve brought him more Heisman votes if the special teams had done their job, and the two interceptions thrown against Mississippi State were the only picks given away over the final eight games of the season. While he’s not considered one of the elite of the elite pro prospects among the quarterbacks in the upcoming draft, he’s not far off and could quickly rise up and be the rock solid guy some teams might want to get on the relative cheap late in the first round or somewhere in the second. It’s not like one more big performance will change his status, but for a guy whose reputation is based on being a winner, coming up with a Sugar Bowl victory and putting three BCS wins on his resume wouldn’t hurt.

While it’s the end of McCarron’s college career, this could really signal the beginning, in a lot of ways, of Blake Bell’s era. Embarrassingly booted from a starting job that seemed to be his going into the season, he hung tight and stepped in to take advantage of his opportunities, throwing for 413 yards and four scores against Tulsa and coming up with a whale of a game against Notre Dame. But a clunker against Texas and inconsistencies against Baylor and other teams gave Trevor Knight another chance. One game-winning drive against Oklahoma State later, and now there’s a chance he could be the program’s main man going forward. However, Alabama has a way of making decent quarterbacks look silly, and Bell needs to keep his cool and not make mistakes. OU lost two games this season and they just so happened to be the two games Bell threw multiple picks with two against both Texas and Baylor.

Out of all the glamour players in the game, the best pro prospect might be on the Alabama offensive line. Junior OT Cyrus Kouandjio has taken a backseat to Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews in the pecking order of top offensive linemen for the 2014 draft, and Michigan’s Taylor Lewan and Florida State’s Cameron Erving are pushing hard, but the rock on the Tide outside should be a top ten overall pick as long as he can come up with one final good game. He’s been a bit inconsistent at times, and he didn’t come up with the next-step season many were looking for, but he’s still an elite franchise blocker who’s too good to spend any more time in college.

In one of the bigger surprises of the season, Oklahoma found something special in sophomore DE Charles Tapper/strong>, a good recruit in the 2012 class who blossomed this year into an All-Big 12 star making 47 tackles with 5.5 sacks and nine tackles for loss. The 6-4, 261-pounder is an elite athlete with tremendous quickness off the ball, and he needs to bother McCarron on a regular basis to try keeping the Alabama passing game in check.

Oklahoma will win if … it wins the field position battle. Oklahoma’s running game is effective, and it can occasionally bust the big play, but it’s not going to pull an Auburn on the Alabama defense. The Sooners don’t have a prayer if the field is tilted to their side, and considering how poor the punting game has been this year – ranking last in the Big 12 – and with Alabama leading the nation in net punting, there could be a problem. Alabama’s goal will be to keep OU pinned deep, use the short field for points, and let the defense do the rest. A decent kick or punt return here and there would do wonders for the Sooners, and some semblance of production from the punting game would be a huge plus.

More than anything else, OU has to be fearless. The Alabama defense isn’t the rock of the past few seasons and the secondary can be beaten. Turnovers would be devastating, but that doesn’t mean Bell can’t and shouldn’t take a few risks down the field and force a few passes here and there. OU can’t win this game straight up; Bell has to get hot right away, but …

Alabama will win if … it contains Trevor Knight when he gets his opportunities. The Crimson Tide defense is supposed to be stellar with time to prepare. It had an entire offseason to get ready for Johnny Manziel, and it didn’t matter. It had weeks to get ready for Auburn, and Nick Marshall did whatever he wanted. Knight isn’t in the same class – he’s not in the same zip code – as Manziel or Marshall, but he’s a dangerous runner who showed against Kansas State that he can make plays. Alabama has to keep him contained and get Bell on the field throwing as much as possible.

Alabama can’t let OU think it has a chance. A few quick scores could kill any semblance of confidence while putting the Sooner offense in a position to start throwing the ball. The two worst rushing outputs this year came against Texas (130 yards) and Baylor (87) yards. Not only were they the only two losses this year, they were the only times the ground game averaged under four yards per pop. Alabama might not get into the backfield like the Longhorns and Bears did – that’s not what the Crimson Tide does – but it can slow down the run.

What Will Happen: Alabama might not make a major, jaw-dropping statement, but it’ll be very effective and very efficient while keeping the Oklahoma offense under wraps. It won’t be the type of game that makes some want to make the Tide No. 1 when all is said and done, but it’ll be a workmanlike win that won’t tax the team too much.

Prediction: Alabama 34 … Oklahoma 16
Line: Alabama -15 … o/u: 51.5
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EARLY QUICK PREVIEW


Alabama vs. Oklahoma  
The Sugar Bowl is normally the Holy Grail for SEC programs, but not for the elite of the elite ones in the BCS era. Alabama might have dreamed the impossible dream of a Duke upset over Florida State in the ACC championship, but instead of getting to play in the BCS championship, the Crimson Tide now has to flex a little bit of muscle and hope to end up No. 2 in the final rankings.

Oklahoma was all but left for dead after getting whacked around by Baylor, but it came back with two nice performances against Iowa State and Kansas State, and pulled off a mini-miracle to keep Oklahoma State out of the Fiesta Bowl. The Sooners came up with yet another ten-win season under Bob Stoops – the fourth in a row and the seventh in eight years – but outside of the win over the Cowboys, the season will be remembered for this showdown.

Three Reasons Why You Have To Watch This Bowl

1. Oklahoma vs. Alabama – it sounds like big-time college football, but it’s just the fifth meeting all-time between the superpowers. The last one came in 2003, but Alabama was bad, finishing 4-9 and losing to OU 20-13. In the 1963 Orange Bowl, the game meant something to the 9-1 Tide in a 17-0 win, but the Sooners were mediocre. Even though the national title isn’t on the line, this is the biggest matchup between the two.

2. How motivated will Alabama be? Will this be the ultra-focused team looking to make a statement that, yeah, this really might be the best team in college football? Can it come up with something jaw-dropping sensational like the 49-7 win over Michigan State in the 2011 Capital One Bowl, or will it be disinterested and sluggish like it was against Utah in the 2009 Sugar Bowl loss?

3. Could this be the beginning of a new rivalry between Stoops and Texas head coach Nick Saban? The rumors won’t go away – partly because Saban isn’t squashing them – and it’s sure to be a huge storyline unless there’s a new contract extension of some sort and/or a major vote of confidence for Mack Brown.

And Why You Shouldn’t Care A Lick: Oklahoma isn’t all that great, and it’s been a disaster in big bowl games. Last year it was destroyed by Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. The 2011 Fiesta Bowl sort of counts, but it was a blowout win over a mediocre and overmatched UConn team. The Sooners lost the 2009 BCS championship to the fighting Tebows of Florida, were whacked by West Virginia in the 2008 Fiesta, lost to Boise State in the 2007 Fiesta, and was obliterated by USC in the 2005 Orange Bowl.

Three Names To Drop To Make Every Man Want You And Every Woman Fear You

1. QB AJ McCarron, Sr. Alabama – He might not be able to close out his career as the starter of a three-time national champion, but he could finish up with a fourth straight bowl victory and a third straight BCS win. This is his final game for the Tide, and while he has already cemented his place in the school’s history, going out with losses to Auburn and Oklahoma would sour things a wee bit.

2. WR Jalen Saunders, Sr. Oklahoma – While he might not be coming up with the big plays on a regular basis as a receiver, he caught a very, very big touchdown pass against Oklahoma State to go along with a brilliant punt return for a score. The team’s leading receiver, he has caught 56 passes for 654 yards and six scores, but he’s doing bigger things with the ball in his hands as a punt returner averaging 16.8 yards per pop with two scores.

3. WR Amari Cooper, Soph. Alabama – Injured over the first half of the season, he didn’t catch his first touchdown pass until late October against Arkansas. He failed to come up with a 100-yard game all season long, and then came the 99-yard play against Auburn that would’ve been the signature moment of the season if it weren’t for all the nuttiness that ensued. He’s showing the same quickness and pop of last year, and with even more rest to heal up, he could explode on the OU secondary.

Gut-Reaction Pick That Might Change In The Next Few Days On A Whim: Alabama 45, Oklahoma 10