This Orange Bowl is the type of matchup that makes the College Football Playoff so much fun.
And so frustrating all at the same time.
Were the four best teams in college football selected on Sunday for the sport’s postseason? No. Ohio State and Georgia are both better than Notre Dame.
Is the pairing between Alabama and Oklahoma the best scenario to come out of a flawed system? Oh, absolutely yes.
This matchup is tastier than a plate of stone crabs on Miami Beach.
It’s Kyler vs. Tua. (And Jalen because let’s not forget The Man himself.)
It’s Oklahoma’s record-breaking offense against Alabama’s record-breaking offense.
It’s the best of the Big 12, which doesn’t play much defense these days, against the best of the SEC, which does defense better than any other conference.
It’s Crimson and White vs. Crimson and Cream. Wait, that’s weird. Ocean Drive on South Beach and Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale could get really confusing. Good news the game is about a month away (7 p.m., Dec. 29 ). There’s plenty of time to figure out all the wardrobe details.
Alabama is 1-3-1 all-time against Oklahoma, and the Crimson Tide and Sooners last met in the Orange Bowl on Jan.1, 1963. That was a classic game, featuring sophomore quarterback Joe Namath and tackling machine Lee Roy Jordan. In attendance were President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.
Alabama won 17-0, and Jordan recorded 31 tackles in the game, which might be more tackles than the entire Oklahoma defense this season. Most recently, Oklahoma defeated Alabama 45-31 in the 2014 Sugar Bowl. No one does offense better than Oklahoma in this points happy-era of Big 12 football (8.94 yards per play in November), but the Sooners have needed every bit of their firepower this season.
This is a stunning statistic for a team that was just selected for the College Football Playoff: Oklahoma’s defense allowed an average of 585.3 yards per game in the month of November (7.53 yards per play). That group has to figure out how to stop one of the greatest offensive teams in the history of Alabama football.
On the other hand, Oklahoma is ranked No.1 nationally in scoring offense at 49.5 points per game. Alabama is ranked No. 2 nationally with 47.9 points per game. Oklahoma has scored 85 touchdowns this season. Alabama has 84.
There will be points.
The winner of the Orange Bowl will play either Clemson or Notre Dame in Santa Clara, Calif., on Jan. 7 in the College Football Playoff national championship game. Alabama, of course, is going for two national championships in a row and three in the last four years. Before Saturday’s SEC Championship game in Atlanta, most people probably had Alabama penciled into the last game of the season.
After the come-from-behind victory against Georgia, there are now enough concerns to keep Alabama focused over the next few weeks. Alabama’s defense is vulnerable against a balanced offensive attack, and Oklahoma’s will be the best Alabama has faced all season. The Sooners are ranked No. 8 nationally in passing (321.2), and their Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback is completing 70.9 percent of his passes. It’s better than Tua (67.9 percent), who dropped off over the last month of the season.
Murray’s quarterback rating (205.72) is now higher than Tagovailoa’s (202.30) as well. Oklahoma’s quarterback closed the race for the Heisman Trophy over the final month of the season. Did he do enough? The award’s presentation ceremony is on Saturday. After that, there will be about a month of hype for a game that doesn’t really need any extra spice.
Tua played the final month of the season with a few different injuries. Now he has a month to rest and heal and prepare for a shootout in South Florida. His surgery on Sunday for a high-ankle sprain could affect Alabama’s preparation for the Orange Bowl. Hurts needed three weeks to return to the field after arthroscopic surgery for a sprained ankle this season.
Alabama coach Nick Saban went with Tua over Jalen at quarterback this season for exactly this type of matchup in the Orange Bowl. Plan B is pretty good, too.
Joseph Goodman is a columnist for the Alabama Media Group. He’s on Twitter @JoeGoodmanJr. His All-Access live chat begins at 10 a.m. every Monday morning in the comments section under his columns.