The 2014 Sugar Bowl showdown between the Alabama Crimson Tide and Oklahoma Sooners wasn’t the matchup many expected at the beginning of the season, but definitely one that fans and gamblers alike are now excited for.
While the Tide and their supporters had their sights set on a third-straight national title appearance, an Iron Bowl letdown against Auburn has dropped them into this lesser BCS matchup.
Oklahoma is just happy to be here after an up-and-down 2013 campaign saw the program lose against unranked Texas and suffer a 29-point blowout at the hands of Baylor. A shellacking of rival Oklahoma State in the Bedlam season finale helped the Sooners save face and make this prestigious bowl game.
Let’s take a closer look at the latest lines for this matchup, make some predictions against the spread and more.
When: Thursday, Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, La.
Betting Line: Alabama -17, as per ScoresAndOdds.com on Jan. 2
This is a fair spread considering the disparity in talent between these two foes.
Alabama was a field goal away from being the favorite to three-peat in the BCS Championship, while OU is just fortunate to be here after faltering to two opponents in Big 12 play.
‘Bama’s head coach, Nick Saban, is a sterling 5-1 in postseason play during his tenure in Tuscaloosa, with the only blemish coming during the Sugar Bowl proceeding the 2008 campaign. He’s overseeing a roster that is disappointed and hungry for vengeance after failing to reach the SEC Championship and itching to obliterate one last opponent to cap off a dominant 2013 season.
During a press conference on Jan. 1, Saban was asked about the possibility of being upset. He told reporters that mindset is the most important thing to avoid it, as per AllStateSugarBowl.com:
Well, I think the important thing about a Bowl game is all about mindset. It's really hard to bring the season to the Bowl game because the amount of time in between opportunities to play. So how your team sort of resets their mindset is really important to how a team's going to prepare, how they're going to focus, how they're going to play in the game. And to me, sometimes if you're an underdog, you have a little bit more to prove. So that mindset is a little better maybe than a team that doesn't have sort of the right motivation going into a game. Because I really do think when you play in a Bowl game it's all about mindset.
His disciplined team should definitely have the right mindset to close out the 2013 campaign and start 2014 off on the right foot.
Remember, Oklahoma is employing a rotation of quarterbacks and suffers from inconsistent play at the most important position on the field. In the final game of the regular season, three different signal-callers entered the game and threw a pass.
While that questionable strategy worked against a flawed Pokes squad, it certainly won’t fly against an elite Tide defense that conceded just 11.3 points per game to the opposition—the second-best mark in the nation.
OU’s trio of quarterbacks, Trevor Knight, Blake Bell and Kendal Thompson, completed a mere 15-of-32 passes for 185 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Those middling numbers came against a much more lenient OSU defense that gave up an average of 20 points per game to lesser competition than Alabama faced in its SEC schedule.
Expect the Crimson Tide, who ranked No. 21 in the nation in yards allowed per pass and conceded just nine scores through the air compared to 10 interceptions in 2013, to decimate these inexperienced and unreliable quarterbacks.
While giving 17 points is a lot, bettors should feel safe backing ‘Bama in the Sugar Bowl. The Tide have proved capable of keeping quality opponents off the scoreboard completely and held all but three teams to less than 10 points in 2013.
With quarterback A.J. McCarron playing in his final collegiate game, Saban should open the playbook up and allow the signal-caller to show off his arm in this one.
McCarron was rock-solid in the Iron Bowl, connecting on 17-of-29 passes for 277 yards and three scores. He should be able easily reach 300-plus yards and four touchdowns against a Sooners defense that allowed 21.3 points per game this season.
Lay the points and back the chalk on Thursday night in order to cash your ticket.
Prediction: Alabama 38 – Oklahoma 10