Crimson Tide look to finish season off strong against Sooners
The Sports Xchange
NCAAF Team Report - Oklahoma - INSIDE SLANT
Alabama from a shot at a third straight BCS championship.
The trick is to make sure that one play doesn't beat the Crimson Tide twice.
When Alabama meets Oklahoma on Jan. 2 in the Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, it will be coming off a brutal 34-28 loss at Auburn on Nov. 30 in which it missed four field goals. The last miss, a 57-yarder on the game's final play by freshman Adam Griffith, was returned 100 yards by Chris Davis for the touchdown which toppled the Tide from its No. 1 ranking.
"We are thrilled to have the opportunity to play such a tremendous program like Oklahoma," quarterback AJ McCarron said. "The Sugar Bowl gives us a chance to play our final game together on one of the grandest stages college football has to offer."
That challenge tripped Alabama up in a similar spot five years ago. After going 12-0 in coach Nick Saban's second year, the Tide lost the Southeastern Conference title game to Tim Tebow's Florida. Then they weren't ready to play in the Sugar Bowl against unbeaten Utah, which roared out to a 21-0 lead on its way to a 31-17 win which wasn't quite as close as the score suggested.
Do that again and Alabama will plunge into the offseason with a taste in its mouth worse than a plate of cigarette butts.
"It will be great to play my final game at Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, so close to my friends and family," Tide linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "That being said, we are going there to win a football game and that has to be our mindset. We are looking forward to the challenge."
So are the Sooners, who, unlike Alabama, come into this one with momentum. They scored two touchdowns in the last 19 seconds of their "Bedlam" rivalry at Oklahoma State Dec. 7 for a 33-24 win which knocked their arch-rival Cowboys out of the Big 12 Conference title.
Considering that Oklahoma has endured serious personnel changes -- it lost freshman quarterback Trevor Knight and defensive leader Corey Nelson to season-ending injuries -- a 10-2 record is a pretty good feat.
Senior quarterback Blake Bell, known more as a goal-line runner until this season, etched himself into Sooner lore with the game-winning drive at Oklahoma State. The defense wasn't a dominant unit after Nelson's injury, but was able to make key plays, with the exception of losses to Texas and Baylor.
Coach Bob Stoops can go into this bowl game with relatively little pressure, unlike many years in which much was expected and little was delivered. After all, it appears this team overachieved on some levels to get here, even though many felt Oregon should have copped this spot.
"To have programs like Oklahoma and Alabama squaring off in January, that's a matchup good for college football," Stoops summed up.
NCAAF Team Report - Oklahoma - NOTES, QUOTES
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
--WR Jalen Saunders blossomed into Oklahoma's top playmaker this season, displaying all his skills in a 33-24 win Dec. 7 at Oklahoma State. Saunders returned a punt 64 yards for a first quarter TD, his second punt return score of the year, and caught a 7-yard scoring strike with 19 seconds left to put the Sooners ahead for good. Saunders finished the season with a team-high 56 catches and is also a threat on end-arounds.
--PK Michael Hunnicutt could tip a close game in Oklahoma's favor if needed for a late kick. Hunnicutt was 23-of-26 on field goals this year, missing fewer attempts than Alabama missed in its 34-28 defeat at Auburn on Nov. 30. Hunnicutt has converted a school-record 61 field goals in three seasons and has scored 341 points, third in school history.