Nick Saban and the No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide will look to earn their third consecutive BCS bowl victory against No. 11 Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.
For the first time since the 2010 postseason, Alabama is not preparing to play for a national championship, with the Tide instead heading to face Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.
These two powers last met in 2003, when Bob Stoops and the Sooners defeated the Crimson Tide 20-13 in Tuscaloosa.
While the Sooners got the best of the Tide on that evening, they would ultimately lose the BCS title to LSU in New Orleans, who were coached by current Tide boss Nick Saban.
What are the main things that Tide fans want to see when their team squares off against the Sooners in the Sugar Bowl?
The last time Alabama took the field against Auburn, the Tide looked out of sorts from the get-go.
There were mental mistakes and uncharacteristic lapses in focus and intensity that ultimately came back to bite the Tide in a late loss.
While Tide fans and players didn’t expect to be spending the new year in New Orleans—and the fact that this may be far from a vintage Sooners outfit—this game is more about Alabama re-establishing its identity on the field.
For evidence of how finishing off a disappointing season on a high note can pay future dividends, Tide players only have to look back to the last time the program failed to play in the BCS title game.
Facing an 11-1 Michigan State squad in the 2010 Capital One Bowl, the Tide routed the Spartans 49-7 and went on to win national titles in each of the next two seasons.
One of the biggest breakdowns the Tide had against the Tigers was the collapse of the special teams unit.
Of course, the four missed field goals garnered most of the attention, but the Tide had hiccups on their coverage units and in the punting game as well.
Given the strong play that unit had displayed prior to the season finale, the bowl game is a perfect opportunity for the Tide to iron out the deficiencies that plagued them against Auburn.
Another theme for Alabama in games in which the offense struggled was its inability to convert on third downs.
In the Tide’s last two conference games (versus Mississippi State and Auburn), the offense was successful only eight times on 25 attempts to move the chains.
Doug Nussmeier’s unit will face a stiff challenge in that department against the Sooners. Oklahoma’s defense ranks 12th nationally, allowing opponents to convert less than 33 percent of third-down chances, according to cfbstats.com.
If the Tide are unable to improve in that category against the Sooners, it could lead to another sloppy effort on offense for Saban’s troops.
No one will confuse the Sooners offense with the hurry-up, no-huddle attack employed by Auburn.
However, similarly, Oklahoma does most of its damage on the ground, averaging almost 236 yards rushing per game, good for 18th nationally in rushing offense, per cfbstats.com.
Alabama’s defense has prided itself on stopping opponents from running the ball, and the matchup against the Sooners gives Kirby Smart’s unit a chance to prove itself in what should be a physical battle in the trenches.
Since the Sooners have a pair of mobile quarterbacks who are likely to see action, the Tide’s defense has to play with discipline while stepping up to meet the physical challenge against a run-oriented attack.