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Oklahoma-Alabama Matchup Has Historical Weight
December 31, 2013

By Wendell Barnhouse | Correspondent

History and records come with consistency and longevity. When Oklahoma and Alabama meet in the Sugar Bowl, they'll have the most combined victories (62) of any matchup in any bowl game ever.

Sooners coach Bob Stoops has, since 2000, coached in nine BCS bowls – more than any other coach. A victory over the Crimson Tide would make Stoops only the second coach (Joe Paterno is the other) to win games in the five major bowls – Cotton, Rose, Orange, Fiesta and Sugar.

While No. 11 Oklahoma (10-2) and No. 3 Alabama (11-1) have rich histories and the iconic coaching matchup features Stoops against the Tide's Nick Saban, there is also conference pride/rivalry at stake. Starting next season, the Big 12 and Southeastern conferences will meet each year in the Sugar Bowl. The SEC has won the last seven national titles and could stretch that string to eight.

"It's kind of funny that Texas A&M has come into the SEC and been so dominant, and they left the Big 12 along with (Missouri)," Oklahoma senior running back Brennan Clay observed. "I think that says something about the Big 12, that we're SEC contenders. We can play against any of these powerhouses down here. It's exciting those former Big 12 teams do so well."

Stoops, who this season surpassed Barry Switzer as OU's winningest coach, has stood up for his conference in the face of what he has called "SEC propaganda." He has said that he doesn't think the bottom half of the SEC lacks quality teams. Before the Sugar Bowl, though, he has been more explanatory than inflammatory.

"There's always a lot of talk because newspapers have to be filled and airtime has to be filled," he said. "You have to talk about something. We don't concern ourselves with it, really. That's their job to do. Our job is to get ready to play and to do the work we do."

Oklahoma earned an at-large invitation despite a lengthy list of injuries. Offensive captain Trey Millard and defensive captain Cory Nelson along with top defensive lineman Jordan Phillips were lost for the season. Quarterback Trevor Knight twice left games in injuries, as did his replacement, Blake Bell. When Knight was knocked out in Bedlam, Bell led the game-winning drive to stun Oklahoma State.

"They've got a great competitive character about them," Saban said of OU. "I think the character of their team was pretty much demonstrated in how they won the last game in some very difficult circumstances."

Alabama has won the last two national championships but fell short this season thanks to a Auburn's late-game magic. In 2008, the Tide lost a shot at playing for the national title with a loss to Florida in the SEC championship game, then lost in the Sugar Bowl to Utah.

"We're fired up playing Oklahoma," Alabama defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan said. "It's not for a national championship or anything, but we're going to go into it like it is. We're going to try to finish this season as strong as possible."

Allstate Sugar Bowl
Oklahoma vs. Alabama

Need to know: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, ESPN.

Team records: Oklahoma 10-2, 7-2; Alabama 11-1 overall, 7-1 in SEC West Division.

Scouting Alabama: Senior quarterback A.J. McCarron, a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, runs an offense with plentiful play makers. Running back T.J. Yeldon gained 1,163 yards rushing with 13 touchdowns and there were four receivers who caught at least 29 passes, led by sophomore Amari Cooper and senior Kevin Norwood. The Crimson Tide is second nationally in scoring defense (allow just over 11 points per game) and fifth in total defense. The defense is led by senior linebacker C.J. Mosley, this season's Butkus Award winner.

Scouting Oklahoma: The Sooners' starting quarterback will be revealed on their first offensive series. The choice will likely be between Trevor Knight or Blake Bell. Injuries have forced Oklahoma to shuffle its offensive line. Left tackle Tyrus Thompson and left guard Adam Shead are out for the Sugar Bowl. … Senior Jalen Saunders could be a big-play factor as a receiver and punt returner. He had a touchdown doing each against Oklahoma State. Oklahoma topped the Big 12 in total defense and was 14th nationally, allowing 336 yards per game.

Short yardage: This will mark only the fifth time the teams have played. Oklahoma leads the series 2-1-1 and beat Alabama 20-13 when they last met in 2003. … The Sooners are making their seventh appearance in the Sugar Bowl, the most of any non-SEC school. … In six years at Alabama, Nick Saban is 5-1 in bowl games. He was coach at LSU when the Tigers beat the Sooners to win the BCS national championship in the 2004 Sugar Bowl. … Alabama has 68 plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more. Oklahoma has 48 plays of 20 yards or more.

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