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Sugar Bowl

Pick 

Oklahoma

vs.

Alabama

1/2/14

This isn't where Alabama wanted to be playing, that's for sure. After its unfortunate loss at Auburn to close the season, the Crimson Tide find themselves in the Sugar Bowl against an Oklahoma side not getting much respect. To no one's surprise, the Crimson Tide are -17 point favorites at 5 dimes sportsbook with a total of 51.5.

Alabama was only 6-5-1 ATS this year being double-digit favorites in all but one game (at Texas A&M). They carved through every opponent outside of two difficult road games. It didn't end the way as planned, though, with the 34-28 loss at Auburn. Against mediocre teams, the Tide dominated, and even beat LSU by 21 points.

Oklahoma wasn't nearly as effective, but did end the season on a three-game streak winning at Kansas State and Oklahoma State. No one knew what to make of the Sooners during the season, and that's still the case. They were dominated by Baylor and lost by 16 against Texas, but still had valuable wins at Notre Dame and OK State. Then there were games where the Sooners struggled against West Virginia, TCU and even Kansas.

The biggest question for Oklahoma is who to use at quarterback. They will likely go with a dual QB system with Blake Bell and Trevor Knight. Bell is better in short-yardage running situations, but Knight is shiftier of the two and averages 7.1 yards per carry. Bell is the better of the passers though throwing for 12 TDs and five INTs. Alabama had trouble against running QBs this season, so it'll be interesting to see how Oklahoma attacks that. Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard are the standouts in the receiving game. Starting RB Damien Williams was removed from the team at the end of November, but Brennan Clay has taken the starting role up and has looked good, rushing for 270 yards and two TDs in the final two games.

Alabama has a great defense allowing 11.3 points per game, and could easily shut down this offense that struggles at times. If the Sooners can't find room on the ground, this may get ugly because Oklahoma's defense doesn't have what it takes to stop the Crimson Tide's offense.

Quarterback AJ McCarron had another solid season as expected with 26 TDs and five INTs and was also a Heisman candidate. He is as efficient as they come and should have another solid game. McCarron has thrown 15 touchdowns in the past six games. With a deep receiving core led by Amari Cooper and Kevin Norwood, it should be another nice game for this offense. And then there's the 'Bama running game that will cause even more problems. Led by a top offensive line, no one has really stopped the duo of T.J. Yeldon (1,163 yards, 13 TDs) and Kenyan Drake (694 yards, eight TDs) this year.

Oklahoma's defense was impressive in its last two games, but stopping Alabama is another animal in itself. The only question is whether the Tide will come to play or not. After getting beat in their final game in such a brutal way after planning on heading to the National Championship game, it's a wonder how the players will react. Although you should never doubt that Nick Saban will have the troops ready.

The Sooners are 0-5 ATS in their last five vs. the SEC and 1-6 ATS in their last seven games in January. The Crimson Tide have covered in four straight bowl games, are 5-1 ATS in their last six vs. the Big 12 and 8-1 ATS in their last nine neutral site games.

A case can certainly be made for either side here. I don't think Saban will have any trouble motivating his team. I think Saban and Bama will try to send a message in this game that they are still one of the best, perhaps the best, college football team in the nation. But I think what stands out about Bama this year is that they really haven't played much of a schedule and if you look at the best 3 teams they played, Texas A&M, LSU and Auburn, you see a loss to Auburn, a 49-42 shootout win over A&M and a win over an LSU team that was down a notch this year.

Along those lines, if you're looking to make a case for Oklahoma, I think you look at how they performed in a couple of their bigger games such as Beating Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Texas Tech and Notre Dame. I thin Bama is the better team but laying double digits in Bowl games isn't something I do.

Our model has Alabama by 16, right on the current line. No question Alabama has a big time defense. Their defensive yards per point number of 24.3 is 2nd to only Florida State this year but I think the Sooners show up to play here and with the line have just hit +17 I'd have to consider a small play on the Sooners. Oklahoma +17 or better

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