WHO: No. 4 Oklahoma (12-1) vs. No. 1 Alabama (13-0)
WHAT: The 85th Capital One Orange Bowl (and the second College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl)
WHEN: 8:00 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami, Fla.
THE SKINNY: Tempting as it may be to center the game around Tua Tagovailoa‘s right knee, that is not the most important lower body injury heading into this game. That would belong to Oklahoma wideout Marquise Brown, who injured his foot/ankle in the Sooners’ Big 12 Championship win and did not return. While OU would still boast a good-to-great offense without its All-American wide receiver (75 catches for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns) at full strength, Brown’s speed provides a third dimension that pushes the Sooners’ attack from great to world class.
And make no mistake, Oklahoma’s offense will need to be at world class level to beat Alabama.
Remember, Oklahoma racked up 289 passing yards, 242 rushing yards and 41 points (seven came from the defense) in last year’s Rose Bowl, and it still wasn’t enough to hold off Georgia. Even if Tagovailoa doesn’t play (and it appears that he will) or isn’t at full strength (to be determined), Alabama will still likely move the ball on OU’s defense. While the Sooners have proven an ability to make the plays when they need them — recall the two touchdowns to beat West Virginia and the same-changing safety against Texas — they won’t match up well with Alabama’s offense even if Jalen Hurts is taking the snaps.
So the question becomes what do Lincoln Riley and Kyler Murray have up their sleeves for Nick Saban and his defense? The Heisman Trophy winner will be a challenge unlike the Tide have ever faced — a Johnny Manziel-like running ability, but quicker, and with a stronger, more accurate arm. Murray averaged 311 passing yards and 68 more on the ground. Those numbers may need to be closer to 350 and 100 — and it still may not be enough.
THE PICK: Alabama 45, Oklahoma 35