Obviously the biggest bowl game on the college football postseason schedule is the BCS National Championship Game between Florida State and Auburn. It gets a ton of hype with the likes of Heisman winner Jameis Winston and company taking the field. However, one could argue that the Sugar Bowl matchup between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Oklahoma Sooners is not far behind it.
The Allstate Sugar Bowl is by far the second-biggest game on the 2013 postseason schedule. No other bowl game, even including the title game, can match the prowess and epic historical battle the Sugar Bowl presents; Alabama and Oklahoma are two of the most storied college football programs of all time.
There are intriguing storylines all over the place in this game. There’s the question of how Alabama will play after their heartbreaking loss to Auburn, whom deprived them of another national championship appearance. There’s the battle of strength vs. strength—Oklahoma’s rush attack vs. Alabama’s rush defense. Lastly, there’s the inevitable last collegiate game for AJ McCarron, and this question: will he go down as the greatest quarterback in Alabama history?
A Battle of Traditional Powers
If you were to rank the bowl games by total all-time wins between the teams, the 2014 Sugar Bowl would win hands down. Alabama is sixth all time in wins with 861 and Oklahoma is eighth all time with 836 wins. Both teams are two of the most recognized brands in all of college football, making the matchup intriguing to fans all across the country.
As far as recent domination goes, well, these teams know a thing or two about how that works. In the last seven years since Nick Saban has taken over, Alabama is an astounding 79-14 with three national championships. For Oklahoma, since coach Bob Stoops took over in 1999, the Sooners are an incredibly impressive 159-39 with now nine BCS bowl appearances.
For all the history these programs have, they’ve only faced each other four times; the last time being in 2003 when Oklahoma came out victorious 20-13. Oklahoma leads the all-time series 2-1-1.
Will Alabama Be Able to Recover from Iron Bowl Loss?
Just two weeks ago, Alabama thought the only bowl they would be participating in would be the BCS National Championship Game. I mean, let's face it, if it weren't for several missed field goals, Alabama would be there right now. However, all of their hopes died after the shock that came from what some people are calling the greatest finish in college football history.
All the hopes and dreams of another title they’d been conjuring up the whole season all went down the drain on that one heartbreaking play. So how will they react? Well, sadly for 'Bama—and their fans know this all too well—they’ve been in similar situations twice in the last several years.
Back during the 2008 season, Alabama finished the regular season a perfect 12-0, then fell to Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators in the SEC championship game, killing their shot at the national championship. They received an invitation to the Sugar Bowl that year against the Utah Utes. Obviously crushed and dejected, Alabama came out and laid a gigantic egg; ending in an embarrassing 31-17 defeat at the hands of an underwhelming Utah team.
Two years after that during the 2010 season, Alabama went into the Iron Bowl week at a record of 9-2 and poised to earn another BCS bowl bid. After blowing a 24-point lead, the Tide ended up getting beat in heartbreaking fashion, once again at the hands of the Auburn Tigers with Cam Newton at the helm. 'Bama ended up playing in the Capital One Bowl against Big 10 co-champs Michigan State. However, this time instead of coming out lethargic and not motivated, the Tide were furious and firing on all cylinders, finishing with an absolute throttling of the Spartans, 49-7.
We have seen Alabama in this situation before, and we’ve seen two completely opposite reactions. Will the 2013 Alabama team come out pissed off and show they are still the best team in the land? Or will they come out down and defeated and let the Sooners run all over them? It's all part of the intrigue of this matchup.
Strength vs. Strength
Both teams’ biggest strengths directly correlate against each other—Oklahoma’s rushing attack vs. Alabama’s rush defense. The winner of this battle of strengths will most likely take home the trophy.
Oklahoma averages 235 yards rushing per game, while Alabama only allows an average of 108 yards per game, ranking 11th in the country. In Oklahoma’s only two losses this season to Texas and Baylor, they have rushed for over 100 yards less than their season average. In Alabama’s only loss this season to Auburn, they allowed a season-high 296 rushing yards.
It is absolutely key for Oklahoma to be able to run the ball if they want to have a chance to win. Based on the Sooners’ ever-revolving door of quarterbacks between Blake Bell and Trevor Knight, it is clear that they can’t rely on one of the two to win against Alabama. Each QB showed moments of promise throughout the season, but outweighing those were moments of inexperience and frustration. They’re going to need a big game from the offensive line, and running backs Brennan Clay and Roy Finch to have any chance in this game.
For Alabama, it is all about stopping that Oklahoma rushing attack, whom as a team, have rushed for close to 3,000 yards this season. The Tide cannot allow their performance against Auburn to hinder them from winning the Sugar Bowl.
There was a time not too long ago, where Alabama’s defense was even thought to be “invincible.” Just take a look at the national championship game two years ago and how dominant the Alabama defense was.
In the 2013 Iron Bowl, Auburn exposed Nick Saban’s vaunted defense, and showed the world that there is a way to beat it; that was through a great rushing attack and having a mobile quarterback. Oklahoma happens to have both of those, although not at the level of Auburn’s, but still very capable of handing Alabama another disappointing loss in the Sugar Bowl, just like Utah did four years ago.
Finishing the Legend that is AJ McCarron
Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron probably doesn’t need anything else in his life; I mean he’s already got Katherine Webb, right? Well, gentleman, sometimes life just isn’t fair.
McCarron will go down as one of the best, if not THE best, quarterbacks in Alabama history. He has a ridiculous career record of 36-3, making him the winningest quarterback of all time at Alabama. He also owns Alabama’s records for passing yards, touchdowns and career completions.
McCarron compares quite favorably to three of the great current NFL quarterbacks—Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning—back when they were in college. On November 9, SportsCenter showed the collegiate career stats of these four quarterbacks side by side of each other.
You will see McCarron has a higher winning percentage than all of them, higher completion percentage, better touchdown-to-interception ratio, and only one less top-10 team win by himself (seven) than the three have combined (eight). Clearly McCarron’s stats place him as one of the most successful quarterbacks of all time.
Along with the stats, McCarron has an unprecedented three total national championship rings (two as a starter, and one from his 2009 redshirt freshman year), and he could’ve had his shot at a fourth if it wasn’t for the heartbreaking Iron Bowl loss.
As far as this year’s Sugar Bowl goes, Oklahoma’s coaching staff is not taking him lightly. Head coach Bob Stoops was quoted by AL.com's Andrew Gribble as saying, “I think AJ McCarron’s the best player in the country. I really do. If I had a (Heisman) vote, that’s who I’d vote for.” Clearly, McCarron has earned the respect he deserves based on his truly outstanding collegiate career.
The 2014 Allstate Sugar Bowl is easily the second-biggest bowl game on the postseason schedule. There's so much intrigue for both of these historical programs matching up at a time when both are at somewhat of a crossroads.
Alabama is trying to recover and get their college football dynasty back on the right track. Where Oklahoma is on the upswing after upsetting rival Oklahoma State to get to this game, making it their first BCS appearance since 2010.
Lastly, the Crimson Tide will obviously want to send AJ McCarron and his record-breaking career out with a bang, however, we will see if good ol’ Boomer Sooner has anything to say about it.