So it's Alabama and Oklahoma in the 2014 Sugar Bowl. Both teams didn't think they'd be here two weeks ago, but for completely different reasons.
Alabama came into the season ranked No. 1 in the country and maintained that ranking until the final game of the regular season when Auburn's Chris Davis returned a field goal 109 yards to cap off an unbelievable game and another Iron Bowl classic.
For Oklahoma, the Sooners had already lost two games against Texas and Baylor heading into its final game with then-No. 6 Oklahoma State in the Bedlam Series. Despite being heavy underdogs, the Sooners pulled off the upset thanks to a Blake Bell—who was the third-string quarterback at the start of the game—touchdown throw and an earthquake. Yes, an earthquake.
Regardless of the circumstances, Bama and Oklahoma will face off on Jan. 2 at 8:30 p.m. in New Orleans, La., for the Sugar Bowl. Before the two teams do battle in the Superdome, here are the two teams biggest playmakers that could decide the outcome for either side.
While this could very likely have been Amari Cooper, T.J. Yeldon has more than earned the title as an X-factor for the Tide. The sophomore had huge shoes to fill after a line including Heisman winner Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy, but in his first year as the "feature" back he has compiled 1,163 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns.
The 6'2", 218-pound back has been a force over his last three games, rushing for over 130 yards and three touchdowns during that stretch. Yeldon has averaged 6.1 yards per carry throughout the season, which is actually down from his 6.3 yards per carry last year.
As for his opponent, Yeldon will be facing a rush defense ranked 27th in the country, allowing 138.3 yards per game on the ground. Quarterback A.J. McCarron will likely be looking to pass first, but against a defense that allows just 198 passing yards per game, Yeldon's success could determine whether the Tide drop two straight or win another BCS Bowl game.
The senior has been on and off all season for the Sooners. But when he's on, he's really on. And with Trevor Knight's status still uncertain following an injury during the final game of the season against the Cowboys, Clay's production will be a necessity.
Clay needs 87 yards against Alabama to amass 1,000 yards this season for the first time in his career. The senior also has six rushing touchdowns on the season, with three of those coming in the last three games.
The difficult part for Clay will be facing off with the No. 11 rushing defense in the country against the Tide, who allow just 108.3 yards per game. With the potential of a freshman quarterback starting against the Bama defense, Clay will need to find holes in the Alabama rush defense. Maybe he should start watching tape of Auburn.
The senior has just about done it all at Alabama. The signal-caller for two national championship wins took the Tide to three straight BCS bowls and orchestrated a 36-3 record so far with just one game remaining on his college career.
McCarron will face a stout passing defense when he takes on the Sooners, but the senior is putting together another great season and will be looking to prove himself to NFL scouts. With a safety valve like the aforementioned Cooper, look for a pissed off McCarron to go downfield quite a bit against Oklahoma.
In the midst of his third-straight season with over 2,600 yards and his second with more than 25 touchdowns, McCarron's final game will need to be his finest if he plans to prove his worth to scouts at the next level. And if he plans to pull off a win, McCarron will need to find a way to dent the armor in the Sooners' potent pass defense.
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