History and tradition meets history and tradition in tonight’s Sugar Bowl between Alabama and Oklahoma. The Tide are favored by 17.5, and it’s the final time the Sugar Bowl will play host to a BCS bowl game.
Here’s what to watch for between two of college football’s heavyweight programs:
How motivated is Alabama? Better yet, do they recover fully after the emotional Iron Bowl loss? It’s been nearly five weeks since Alabama played their last football game in college football’s game of the year. Does a motivated and hungry team emerge, or does an unmotivated and disinterested Crimson Tide team show up? If Alabama comes ready to play, they’ll win by three touchdowns. Alabama isn’t good enough to just show up and win. How hungry they enter will determine the outcome.
Who will get the most snaps at QB for OU? Blake Bell and Trevor Knight have both played throughout 2013, but Bell was the author of the great win against Oklahoma State in the final game of the season. Both are similar and struggle in the passing game, but each have their strengths in the running game, with Bell being the bruiser and Knight being shiftier. Bell has thrown for 1,648 yards, 12 touchdowns and five INTs, while Knight has thrown for 471 yards, five touchdowns and four INTs. Bell will start the game, but how much will Knight play? That largely depends on how much success Bell has.
Saying goodbye: Alabama will say goodbye to two of its program pillars, QB AJ McCarron and LB CJ Mosley. Saying Alabama won’t be motivated is one thing, but when you have two leaders like McCarron and Mosley who can rally the troops, it has to make Nick Saban feel like this Sugar Bowl won’t be a repeat of the 2009 Utah upset. McCarron ends his collegiate career tonight, and he’ll go down as Alabama’s top quarterback in history, while Mosley has racked up a whopping 313 tackles and was the BCS National Championship Game MVP last season.
Containing Saunders: You may not have heard of Oklahoma’s Jalen Saunders yet, but he’s been a major weapon on special teams. Maybe Oklahoma’s offense sputters throughout the night, and it’s likely they won’t score many points. Therefore, Saunders will be crucial to the Sooners’ success. He’s currently the sixth best punt returner in the country, and he’s returned 18 punts for 302 yards (16.78 per punt) with two touchdowns.
Line of scrimmage play: It’s the one continuous dominant factor the SEC always has, and it will be a test for the Sooners. Oklahoma isn’t a team that can consistently attack the secondary; that’s good news for the Tide’s defense. However, they have consistently proven they can run the football to the tune of over 235 yards per game. But it all starts up front and handling Alabama’s defensive line. The biggest difference maker for the Sooners will be their ability to eat up yards on the ground; it’s paramount for an upset. Conversely, Alabama’s O-line is physically superior to the Sooners’ defensive line. Will Alabama be able to line up and run it down the Sooners’ throats? On paper they can, but the Tide’s offensive line and running game haven’t been as dominant as last season. Whichever team wins the line of scrimmage will win the Sugar Bowl.
Photo Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports