Sugar Bowl Preview: Alabama vs. Oklahoma
*By Andrew Gilman, FanIQ/Fox Sports Southwest
Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC) vs. Oklahoma (10-2, 7-2 Big 12)
January 2, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Alabama Players to Watch:
C.J. Mosley, LB: Just read what Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops had to say about Mosley:
"I think C.J. Mosley is as fine a football player as I've seen in my time here at Oklahoma in 15 years, and that's the truth. Just an absolute perfect football player when you look at the physical abilities he has and competitive nature. He just plays so hard and the talent and the physical, how physical he is. There's times I marvel at it. You have him blocked and he shouldn't make the play, and there he is taking on another block and making the play or making it bounce to someone else who does make the play and it shouldn't happen that way. Other people would be blocked and the guy would get ten yards. He's a great player, and you have to be aware of where he is at all the time."
Mosley is a first-team All-American and the Butkus award winner. That's enough, isn't it?
A.J. McCarron, QB: Often times, McCarron gets overlooked because Alabama has so many talented players all over the field. While the Tide offense has never been described as dynamic, McCarron is as good as it gets. He's one play removed from being a three-time BCS champ and is an All-American. He's 36-3 as a starter, sixth-best in NCAA history by win percentage among QBs with 30 or more starts.
Oklahoma Players to Watch:
Brennan Clay, RB: Clay has 913 yards rushing this season and is averaging 5.8 yards per carry. But more importantly, Clay has shown the ability to be able to carry it often. He had a season-high 31 in a road win against Kansas State to go along with 200 yards. Clay is dependable, not flashy. He's steady, not sterling. He'll need to be a little of everything if the Sooners are going to stay close to Bama. OU's offense isn't built to throw prolifically, so running will be a priority.
Eric Striker, LB: Striker is OU's most-exciting player on defense. He's disruptive and a big hitter. While the OU defensive line will need to be at its best to slow down Alabama's rushing attack, Striker is OU's best bet to create a turnover.
Alabama Key to Victory:
Seems silly and simple, but Alabama has to show up. Yeah. Weird, isn't it, but Bama is dealing with the fact it won't be playing for a national title after its loss to Auburn in the Iron Bowl.
"The important thing about a bowl game is all about mindset," Saban said. "How your team resets their mindset is really important to how a team is going to prepare, how they're going to focus, how they're going to play in the game. To me, if you're an underdog, you have a little more to prove."
Alabama is not the underdog. If the Tide comes into the game playing like they are, they'll be in good shape. If they come into the game playing like they don't have anything to gain, OU could sneak up on them.
Oklahoma Key to Victory:
Keep it rolling. The Sooners have been projected to lose the past two games and OU has turned in two big, road wins – including the shocker at Oklahoma State at the end of the season.
Despite a 10-2 season, OU's lack of identity on offense – especially at the quarterback position – has made it seem as if this was a season in disarray. To some extent, it has been, yet coach Bob Stoops has gotten enough play out of a trio of quarterbacks and enough help on defense to earn another BCS Bowl game.
The key for the Sooners will be to run the ball and play with that chip on the shoulder one more time. It's worked lately.
Line: Alabama (-15.5)
Prediction: A lot of it depends on if Alabama comes out angry or apathetic. On a good day, the Sooners don't have the players on offense to beat Alabama, but if the Tide is disinterested, everything changes.
My guess is Bama brings a new-found intensity and tries to get that Auburn loss out of its system. If that happens and if the Sooners play well, which I think they will, Bama will roll.
Alabama 38, Oklahoma 13
*All quotes were obtained first hand.
Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter: @andrewgilmanOK