ALLSTATE SUGAR BOWL STORYLINES
1. Alabama saw its chances to play for a third consecutive national championship dashed on the final play of the regular season, so an obvious question is whether the third-ranked Crimson Tide will suffer a major letdown when they face No. 11 Oklahoma in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2 in New Orleans. A miraculous 109-yard kickoff return by bitter rival Auburn as time expired in the regular-season finale derailed Alabama's three-peat hopes and now the team must regroup for the matchup with the twice-beaten Sooners. It will be the five-year anniversary of The Crimson Tide's last visit to the Sugar Bowl, when they were waxed by Utah after their perfect season ended against Florida in the SEC Championship game.
2. Oklahoma is a decided underdog after losing to Texas and getting mauled by Baylor, but it finished the regular season on a high note, registering a last-minute victory at archrival Oklahoma State. One of the few programs in the country that can rival Alabama's storied history, the Sooners will be making their 15th consecutive bowl appearance under coach Bob Stoops. Oklahoma had a three-game bowl winning streak snapped last season with a lopsided defeat against Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M - a former Big 12 rival that now plays with Alabama in the SEC, which has produced the past seven BCS national champions.
3. Despite the string of success under Stoops that includes a dozen 10-win seasons since 2000, Alabama's Nick Saban is widely regarded as the best coach in college football with four national championships under his belt. One of them came at the expense of Stoops and Oklahoma, when Saban guided Louisiana State to a 21-14 victory over the Sooners in the Sugar Bowl following the 2003 season. "We respect them, but we're not scared to play them," Oklahoma All-American center Gabe Ikard said of the Crimson Tide. "They're extremely talented and we realize that. You have got to be confident going into a football game or else you're going to get blown out."
TV: 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: Alabama -15
ABOUT OKLAHOMA (10-2, 7-2 Big 12): Stoops still must decide on a starting quarterback versus Alabama - the options being senior Blake Bell and redshirt freshman Trevor Knight. The Tebow-esque Bell, nicknamed the Belldozer for his 6-6, 260-pound frame, started eight games and was superb in rallying the Sooners past Oklahoma State when Knight went down with a shoulder injury. Knight, however, is a dual threat and it's worth noting that Alabama's defense surrendered its two highest point totals against similar-style QBs for Texas A&M and Auburn. Brennan Clay rushed for 913 yards, including 200 against Kansas State in the next-to-last game, to power a ground game that ranked among the top 20 nationally while Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard are the top receiving targets.
ABOUT ALABAMA (11-1, 7-1 SEC): The Crimson Tide have no such question marks under center with senior A.J. McCarron, the Maxwell Award winner and runner-up in the Heisman Trophy balloting. McCarron threw for 26 touchdowns against only five interceptions this season and posted even better numbers as a junior with 30 TD passes and three picks, capped by a brilliant performance in the national championship game that was somewhat overshadowed by ABC's Brent Musberger gushing over McCarron's girlfriend, Katherine Webb. T.J. Yeldon rushed for 1,163 yards and 13 scores while Amari Cooper leads a deep and balanced receiving corps. Per usual, Alabama features a stellar defense that ranked No. 2 nationally, allowing 11.7 points per game and holding nine of 12 opponents to 10 points or fewer.
PREDICTION: Alabama 34, Oklahoma 18