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Written by on January 1, 2014

The Sugar Bowl: Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Oklahoma Sooners Pick-Odds-Prediction 1/2/14: Rick's Free College Football Pick Against the Spread
Photo by: RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

#3 Alabama clashes with #11 Oklahoma in the All State Sugar Bowl Thursday night.

Storyline: After falling short of an unprecedented third national championship in as many years, followed by widespread speculation that its high-profile head coach might jump ship for Texas, #3 Alabama actually has one more game to play. The Crimson Tide will face #11 Oklahoma, another of college football’s most storied programs, in the All State Sugar Bowl Thursday night.

The Breakdown: The Tide seemed like a lock for their third straight national title this season, particularly after avenging their only loss of 2012 in a week two 49-42 victory over Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M, who, viewed from afar, seemed the only real threat to unseat the two-time defending champs. Alabama followed the win over the Aggies by looking downright unbeatable in reeling off nine straight without even the slightest scare, including decisive victories over ranked Ole Miss and LSU teams. That setup one of college football’s most stunning finishes ever when #4 Auburn returned a missed Alabama field goal attempt 109 yards as time expired for the 34-28 Iron Bowl upset, effectively ending a Bama title run that appeared etched in stone.

Alabama posted solid numbers in most categories this season, ranking 37th nationally in total yards per outing (448.9), 21st in rushing yards (212.0), 63rd in passing yards (236.9) and 18th in points scored (38.8). They’re led by Maxwell Award winner and Heisman Trophy finalist A.J. McCarron. The senior QB completed 67.6 percent of his passes (the nation’s 14th best mark) for 2,676 yards, 26 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. He’s joined in the backfield by sophomore RBs T.J. Yeldon (1163, 3 TDs), the nation’s 28th-ranked rusher, and Kenyan Drake (694 YDs, 8 TDs). Also at McCarron's disposal is the receiving duo of sophomore Amari Cooper (36 REC, 615 YDs, 4 TDs) and senior Kevin Norwood (36 REC, 538 YDs, 7 TDs), who combined for 1,153 yards and 15 TDs. On the defensive side, Bama field the nation’s second-ranked scoring defense, allowing a mere 11.3 points per contest and its standouts include senior LB C.J. Mosely (100 Tkls) and  junior S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (48 Tkls, 1 INT).

Oklahoma also had a 2013 that initially seemed destined for greater things. After winning their first five and holding opponents to an average of 13 points, the Sooner defense was being heralded a juggernaut. That standing took a hit the following week in the Red River Rivalry, however, when OU surrendered 255 rushing yards to a floundering Texas team in a 36-20 loss, despite being favored by 14 points. Oklahoma would regroup to win its next two, including a 38-30 shootout over then 10th-ranked Texas Tech, but faltered again in a 41-12 spanking by a surging #6 Baylor team. The Sooners closed out the regular season by winning their final three, highlighted by a shocking 33-24 upset of then #6 Oklahoma State in the Bedlam finale.

Oklahoma finished with the country’s 18th-best ground game (235.8 YDs per), 56th total offense (422.5 YDs per), 102nd passing game (186.7 YDs per) and 51st-ranked scoring offense (31.8 points per). Junior QB Blake Bell led the Sooners in passing with 1,648 YDs and 12 touchdowns to 5 interceptions, while sharing time with the more mobile Trevor Knight. The true freshman passed for 471yards ad 5 touchdowns and rushed for 438 yards and 2 touchdowns in three starts this season. A number of running backs saw touches, but senior Brennan Clay (913 YDs,6 TDs) became the go-to guy with 158 carries after Damien Williams was dismissed from the team. Senior WR Jalen Saunders (56 REC, 654 YDs, 6 TDs) is the team’s top target and doubles as a dangerous kick returner. Defensively, OU was one of the top unit’s in the country, ranking 23rd nationally in scoring defense, allowing 21.3 points per outing.

Rick’s Pick: The line in this matchup is currently set at -16 for Alabama with a 51 point total. Per usual, Stoops has yet to announce his starting quarterback, but that should be of little consequence here. OU has pulled out a game or two they maybe shouldn’t have this season, namely Ok State and Texas Tech, but they’ve also shown what they can’t do and that’s pass the ball. They won’t take it straight up, but the Sooners have enough offense to keep it closer than the spread.

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's Pick: Oklahoma +16


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