In the second of the two national semi-finals on Saturday, the no. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide will face the no. 4 Oklahoma Sooners in the Orange Bowl. Defending champion Alabama is favored by 14 points with an over/under of 77.5 points.
For the fifth time in five years, the Crimson Tide find themselves in the College Football Playoff semi-finals. Alabama has won the semi-finals in each of the last three seasons and gone on to win the title twice during that span. The Tide also enters this game a perfect 13-0, rarely breaking a sweat this season prior to their comeback win over Georgia in the SEC Championship Game.
As for Oklahoma, they are playing in the CFP for the third time in the last four years. However, they’ve yet to advance to the title game, losing last year in that epic game against Georgia. But behind Heisman winner Kyler Murray, the Sooners could be even better than last year. Oklahoma’s only loss of the season came against Texas, a loss that was avenged in the Big 12 Championship Game and earned the Sooners a spot in the CFP.
Strength on Strength
The most anticipated matchup of this game may be Murray and the Oklahoma offense against the vaunted Alabama defense. With Murray’s skills as both a runner and a passer, not to mention the dynamic playmakers around him, the Sooners averaged close to 54 points per game this season. In 13 games, they were only held under 40 points on three occasions, giving the Alabama defense their biggest test of the season.
Of course, the Tide gave up less than 15 points per game this year. They shut out a pair of top-20 teams in LSU and Mississippi State while holding three other teams, including a high-scoring Missouri team, to 10 points or less. Obviously, they haven’t faced an offense with Oklahoma’s talent, and their struggles against Georgia in the SEC title game doesn’t inspire confidence, but the Alabama defense is as talented as any defense in the country.
Can You Do Anything?
On the other side of the ball, the Oklahoma defense remains the game’s biggest question mark. The Sooners were dreadful defensively this season, allowing over 32 points per game. Even against a schedule that included eight bowl teams, that’s an unacceptable number for a team that’s hoping to win a national championship.
Meanwhile, the Alabama offense is no longer a weakness for the Crimson Tide. Tua Tagovailoa gives the Crimson Tide an incredibly efficient passing attack to go with their powerful running game. The Tide averaged nearly as many points as Oklahoma’s offense, doing so against better defensive teams. To be fair, Tagovailoa had a rough showing in the SEC Championship Game and had to undergo surgery for a high-ankle sprain after that game. But there’s no reason to believe he won’t play in the Orange Bowl and be close to 100%.
Closer Than You Think
As Oklahoma showed in last year’s national semi-final against Georgia, their offense can score points against elite SEC defenses. The Sooners have arguably the best offensive line in the country, so they won’t be pushed around by Alabama’s front-7. Look for the Sooners to score points in this game and force the Tide to beat them in a shootout. Bet on Oklahoma beating the 14-point spread against Alabama, even in a loss.