The 2014 Allstate Sugar Bowl is set to feature two of the nation's greatest traditional powers, and two of the most recognizable brands in college football, when No. 3 Alabama meets No. 11 Oklahoma.
The matchup marks a meeting of two teams at a crossroads. The Crimson Tide will enter the Superdome looking to recover from a jarring loss to archrival Auburn and hoping to set Nick Saban's recent dynasty back on course going into the 2014 season and beyond.
Across the way, the Sooners are flying high after a thrilling upset win over rival Oklahoma State and making their first appearance in a BCS bowl since 2010.
Alabama is looking to hold onto its place among the elite programs in college football, while Oklahoma is beating on the door, trying to break into that upper echelon.
Under the bright lights of the Superdome, something will have to give.
Time: Thursday, Jan. 2, 7:30 p.m. ET
Place: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, La.
Return to Crimson Tide football
In Alabama's last outing in the Iron Bowl, the Crimson Tide lost sight of its own famous "Process."
Saban and the Tide coaching staff were caught second-guessing themselves. They found themselves taking unnecessary risks. They were handing opportunities to the opposing team.
Worst of all, Alabama couldn't do what it has done best during Saban's recent run, and that's make the opposition quit. Even after scoring 21 straight points in the second quarter against Auburn and putting their collective feet on the Tigers' throats, the Crimson Tide players allowed Auburn a glimmer of hope to take advantage of.
That shouldn't happen again any time soon. Alabama will be back to its dominating ways before long—the Crimson Tide just hope to find that mentality in time for Oklahoma.
Lock down on defense
The Alabama offense should be able to move the ball on the Sooners defense, and it should be able to put plenty of points on the board. On the opposite side of the ball, the Crimson Tide can't allow its performance against Auburn to beat them twice—or allow Oklahoma to suddenly think the once-"invincible" Alabama defense is now beatable.
Run the ball
The blueprint to solving the Alabama defense has already been laid out, and while Oklahoma doesn't have quite the rushing attack of national championship-bound Auburn, there's plenty of notes the Sooners can take from the Iron Bowl to find a way to get past the Tide.
If the Sooners can establish the run on the Alabama defense and get its backs in the open field on the Superdome's quick turf, they just might be able to open up the pass and play straight up against the Tide defense with its strengths.
Defensively, stops might be hard to come by after the Alabama offense and quarterback AJ McCarron have a month to dissect the nuances of the Sooner defense. The best way to get stops is to force turnovers, and if Oklahoma can do that, it would help the Sooners in the field-position battle and give the Oklahoma offense some easier chances to score.
The Sooner offense will take all of the help it can get against the Tide's defense.
Heisman Trophy or not, AJ McCarron will be finishing his career in the Superdome as one of the SEC's all-time great quarterbacks. He's won two national championships and piled up an exorbitant number of wins over his three years as a starter.
In the Sugar Bowl, McCarron will be plenty motivated to end his tremendous career on a high note. After the bitter ending of his last regular season in the Iron Bowl, only a win as sweet as the Sugar Bowl could wash out that taste.
For those tuning into the Sugar Bowl to see future NFL stars in action, Mosley will be the man to watch. The senior Crimson Tide linebacker is a returning All-American from a year ago and a semifinalist for the Lombardi, Bednarik and Butkus Awards in 2013. He's been projected as a first-round pick in this spring's NFL draft and is widely regarded as one of the top linebacker prospects in the country.
No matter who throws him the ball, Oklahoma wide receiver Jalen Saunders can go up and get it. Saunders proved that much last week, pulling down the Sooners' game-winning touchdown pass in the final moments of Oklahoma's upset win over Oklahoma State in the Bedlam Series, hauling it in from Blake Bell, who started the day as the Sooners' third-string quarterback.
Saunders is Oklahoma's leading receiver, boasting 56 catches on the season for 654 yards and six touchdowns.
Sophomore linebacker Frank Shannon leads the Sooners in tackles, having piled up 85 total tackles on the defensive side of the ball. Shannon also holds the third-best total of tackles for loss on the team, with seven for a total of 24 yards.
While Alabama may have spent the season dreaming for—and likely expecting—a shot at a third straight national championship at season's end, the Tide are still excited to close the year in the Sugar Bowl, as Mosley explained in a statement via The Anniston Star.
"It is going to be exciting for us to go to New Orleans and play in another BCS bowl game," said Crimson Tide senior linebacker C.J. Mosley. "I grew up in Mobile so it will be great to play my final game at Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, so close to my friends and family. That being said, we are going there to win a football game and that has to be our mindset. I know we are looking forward to the challenge.”
The same goes for McCarron, also a native of Mobile, Ala., which is just a short drive from New Orleans.
"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."
“The University of Oklahoma is looking forward to the challenge of competing against the University of Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl,” Bob Stoops said in a statement. “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 Sugar Bowl and New Orleans always provide a memorable experience for student-athletes and for fans. To have programs like Oklahoma and Alabama squaring off in January, that’s a match-up good for college football. I know Sooners fans will be excited to make the trip to support us in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.”
Alabama 38, Oklahoma 20
At the end of the day, the Crimson Tide should roll in New Orleans.
Oklahoma is on its way back, and could be just a few steps away from becoming a big-time player on the national scene once again.
But Alabama is a monster—and one loss isn't going to shatter the Crimson Tide's chemistry.
If the Sooners play up to the best of their ability, they have a good shot at giving Alabama a game.
But for a legendary senior class at Alabama, one last victory should be in the making in New Orleans.