Position: Running back
Key stat: Averaged 10.4 yards per carry against Georgia in the SEC title game
Buzz: Jacobs has proven to be a valuable offensive weapon, leading the Crimson Tide running backs with 11 touchdowns this season, despite being the team’s third-leading rushing. Coming off an MVP performance in the SEC Championship Game, Jacobs, from Tulsa, Oklahoma, should be highly motivated to play the Sooners, a team that didn’t recruit Jacobs very hard until late in the recruiting process.
Position: Defensive line
Key stat: Has 36 tackles this season
Buzz: Ray has seen an increase in playing time in the last half of the season and he’s taken advantage of it. He has five tackles for a loss this season with one in each of the last four games. Ray has been a solid backup to team sack leader Isaiah Buggs, and the Crimson Tide does not miss a beat with the sophomore stepping in to spell Buggs. He’ll be looking to continue his strong play against the Sooners.
Position: Defensive back
Key stat: AP, Sporting News and AFCA consensus All-American
Buzz: Thompson has stepped up this season to be a leader in the Crimson Tide secondary. He’s second on the team in tackles with 71 and even has three tackles for a loss and two interceptions. For the Orange Bowl, he will need to step it up even more to defend against Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray and an explosive Sooner offense that averages 324 passing yards a game and has 41 passing touchdowns.
Key stat: Has thrown at least two touchdown passes in all but one game this year
Buzz: A Heisman Trophy winner is going to get all the attention in the postseason and everyone wants to see what Murray does against a top-notch defense like Alabama’s. Murray has accounted for 51 Sooner touchdowns and will try to find success against an Alabama secondary that has been susceptible at times this season.
Position: Running back
Key stat: Needs 72 rushing yards to reach 1,000 this season
Buzz: With all the attention on Kyler Murray and the air attack, everyone forgets about the Sooners’ outstanding run game. It starts with Sermon, who ranks sixth in the Big 12 at 71.4 rushing yards per game. The bruising back could give Alabama fits once he gets past the line and he’s also a threat as a receiver.
Position: Offensive line
Key stat: First-team All-Big 12, third-team AP All-American
Buzz: Ford is the leader of a Sooner offensive line that’s among the best in the country. He and the line won the Joe Moore Award, given to the best offensive line in college football. Whether he matches up with UA defensive linemen Quinnen Williams, Isaiah Buggs or Raekwon Davis, Ford should be up to the task.
— Edwin Stanton