Orange Bowl 2018: Updated Odds and Preview for Alabama vs. Oklahoma

Ryan McCrystal@@ryan_mccrystalFeatured ColumnistDecember 3, 2018

Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray (1) prepares to hand off in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Florida Atlantic in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

If you like high-scoring shootouts, the 2018 Orange Bowl will be a must-see matchup this bowl season. 

Oklahoma and Alabama—the two highest scoring teams in the country—are set to square off in this College Football Playoff semifinal showdown. The game will also likely pit two Heisman finalists against each other, between Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and Oklahoma's Kyler Murray. 

These two prolific offenses are putting up a combined 97.4 points per game this year, and they have combined to score 50 or more points in 15 different contests (Alabama 8, Oklahoma 7). 

Despite the excitement over this potential offensive shootout, the health of Tagovailoa is a cloud hovering over the game. Tagovailoa exited Saturday's SEC Championship Game with an apparent ankle injury and did not return. ESPN.com's Alex Scarborough has since reported that it was a high ankle sprain, which is only expected to hold Tagovailoa out of practice for two weeks. 

For the purposes of this preview, we'll assume Tagovailoa is at full strength. If he does sit out or is slowed down, however, the dynamics of the Alabama offense change significantly. 

       

Who: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Oklahoma

Where: Hard Rock Stadium (Miami, FL)

When: Saturday, December 29, 8 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Spread: Alabama -14, via Oddsshark

         

Oklahoma boasts one of the most dominant offenses in college football history, but the Sooners didn't exactly go through a gauntlet this season. Eight of the Sooners' opponents ranked 80th or worse in yards-per-play allowed, which casts a bit of doubt on the legitimacy of their gaudy numbers. 

Only two of the Sooners opponents ranked in the top half of the FBS in yards per play allowed this season: TCU (ranked 24th) and Iowa State (30th). Here's how Oklahoma's offense fared in those games, compared to its season averages:

TCU:  52 points, 536 yards, 7.44 yards per play

Iowa State: 37 points, 519 yards, 7.63 yards per play

Season avg: 49.5 points, 577 yards, 8.75 yards per play

Both TCU and Iowa State held Oklahoma slightly below its season average in terms of yards per play, so it does appear as though a quality defense can slow down the Sooner offense. However, Oklahoma still moved the ball with ease and put up a combined 89 points in those two games. 

Alabama's defense enters bowl season ranked seventh, giving up just 4.52 yards per play. So is the Crimson Tide unit strong enough to slow down Oklahoma, or is the Sooner offense matchup proof?

If you're picking this game against the spread, that's the question you need to answer. If Alabama can come up with a few stops it should cruise to victory, because on the other side of the ball, the Crimson Tide offense will likely march up and down the field unabated against Oklahoma's sieve of a defense. 

Some of Oklahoma's poor defensive numbers can be attributed to a schedule which pitted them against a few of the best offenses in the country. West Virginia ranks 8th in the nation in yards per game, and put up 704 yards against the Sooners. Oklahoma State ranks 10th and racked up 640 yards on Oklahoma.

Those games slightly skewed the Sooners stats in a negative direction. However, the Sooner defense has also been gutted by teams such as Kansas, which put up 40 points and 524 yards, despite owning the nation's 112th ranked offense. 

It's difficult to imagine a defense that couldn't even slow down the Jayhawks providing much of a challenge for Nick Saban and his staff—especially with a month to prepare for the game. 

      

Final Prediction

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 01:  Tua Tagovailoa #13 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates after a touchdown by Josh Jacobs #8 (not pictured) in the first half against the Georgia Bulldogs during the 2018 SEC Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Decem
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

If Tagovailoa is healthy, it's not unrealistic to expect Alabama to put points on the board every time it touches the ball. 

As long as the Crimson Tide defense makes a handful of stops, Saban's squad should light up the scoreboard and cruise into the national championship game. 

Prediction: Alabama 55, Oklahoma 38  

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