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Sugar Bowl 2014: Heavy Underdog Tag Could Be Advantage for Oklahoma vs. Alabama

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Sugar Bowl 2014: Heavy Underdog Tag Could Be Advantage for Oklahoma vs. Alabama
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Oklahoma is ready to silence the critics.

The Oklahoma Sooners have absolutely no shot at winning when they take on the Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2014 Allstate Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2 (8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN).

Zilch. Zero. Nada.

At least that’s what fans, critics and media alike would lead you to believe. Even the betting lines have gotten in on the fun, listing Alabama as high as 16-point favorites.

But believe it or not, that could ultimately work in Oklahoma’s favor.

Look, it’s no secret that the 2013 season has been tough sledding for the team. The Sooners have rotated three different quarterbacks, lost to rival Texas as two-touchdown favorites, suffered several key injuries on both sides of the ball and struggled to find any sort of consistency or rhythm on offense.

Yet Oklahoma still finds itself with a 12th 10-win season in 15 years and a ninth appearance in a BCS bowl. 

Not bad for a rebuilding season, huh?

“Everybody just kept grinding, kept fighting, kept believing,” Sooners head coach Bob Stoops said, via Al.com’s Andrew Gribble. “I am proud of our assistant coaches, the way they’ve continued to put pieces together when we have lost guys—which we’ve lost many—but no one ever flinched.”

Which brings us here: Oklahoma, in a bowl game it has no business playing in, versus the two-time defending national champion Tide, who were a mere second away from potentially playing in a third consecutive BCS title game.

Tale of the Tape: Oklahoma vs. Alabama
Oklahoma Alabama
W-L 10-2 11-1
PPG 31.8 38.8
YPG 422.5 448.9
PPG Allowed 21.3 11.3
YPG Allowed 336.3 274.7
3rd Down Conv. (%) 38.9 47.4
3rd Down Def. (%) 32.5 33.5
Streak 2W 1L

Cfbstats.com

Talk about a mismatch. How do the Sooners possibly think they can compete?

Better question: What do they have to lose?

Oklahoma is playing with house money. In fact, it has been for about a month now.

Following an embarrassing loss to Baylor, 41-12, back on Nov. 7, the Sooners dropped to 7-2. With two of its remaining three games on the road, many thought the team would be lucky just to finish the season with eight wins.

Instead, Oklahoma rolled into Manhattan, Kan., as 5.5-point underdogs and halted red-hot Kansas State’s four-game winning streak, 41-31. The team followed that up by crushing in-state rival Oklahoma State’s Big 12 title dreams with a thrilling 33-24 win in Stillwater—the Sooners entered as 10-point underdogs.

Oddly enough, the players seem to respond better when the world is against them, so to speak.

“I think this team thrives off the underdog role,” defensive end Geneo Grissom said, via ESPN’s Brandon Chatmon. “We almost feel disrespected being an underdog. We feel like we can play with anyone…it motivates us and helps us thrive.”

But that mindset is nothing new. Thriving off the underdog role was the backbone for Stoops’ rise to prominence in 2000.

Entering that season, Oklahoma was ranked No. 20 in the preseason Coaches’ Poll. Nothing much was expected from the squad.

Four times the Sooners were considered the underdog. In two of those games, the team was projected to lose by double-digits.

Oklahoma won all four of those contests by an average margin of victory of 21.8 points.

Included was a dominating defensive performance in the BCS title game against No. 2 Florida State—a team that had won 23 of its 24 previous contests while riding a streak of 14 consecutive 10-win seasons.

The Sooners won 13-2, capping off a magical 13-0 record in only Stoops’ second year at the helm.

The Sooners are no strangers to having success as underdogs.

Since then, the Youngstown, Ohio, native has led Oklahoma to a 14-9 record as the underdog. That includes a 3-1 record in bowl games.

But none of those wins shook the landscape of college football quite like a win over Alabama in January would.

It certainly helps that there isn’t an ounce of pressure on Stoops and his team entering the matchup.

If the Sooners lose big, so what? That’s what everyone expected, right? Life goes on.

If the team falls short in a close game, the valiant effort would serve as momentum to carry into 2014.

But if Oklahoma wins, the effects would be far reaching—especially if the team does so in convincing fashion.

Now, you’re looking at a potential Top 10 ranking for the Sooners entering 2014. Maybe even Top Five.

Not only that, but the team’s recruiting would also receive a nice boost. Top prospects on the fence (i.e. Joe Mixon) would more than likely decide to make the jump to Norman.

All in all, Oklahoma really can’t lose with this matchup.

On the other hand, the Tide can only lose.

What will be the result of the Sugar Bowl?

Submit Vote vote to see results

This is a consolation prize after failing to make the BCS title game. This is a matchup the team is supposed to win. There’s no excuse for not getting the job done.

How does Alabama head coach Nick Saban get his team up for this game?

The last time the Tide were in a similar situation, they lost to Utah, 31-17, in the 2009 Sugar Bowl.

So if you’re a Sooners fan, don’t fear this matchup. Embrace it.

This is a chance to go head-to-head with a team many still consider the best in the nation. A team that has lost just six games since 2009 while winning three BCS titles in the process.

All season long, opposing fans have chanted, “We want ‘Bama!” until their lungs got sore.

Well, Oklahoma has them. Now it’s time for the team to prove it belongs on the same field as them.

 

All stats and rankings are courtesy of Cfbstats.com

For complete coverage and everything college football, you can reach Sebastian on Facebook, on Twitter and via email at Sebastian.LenaBR@gmail.com.

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