The matchup college football fans have been waiting for all year for is just a few days away. The Orange Bowl matchup between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Alabama Crimson Tide will feature the two most prolific offenses in the country, the Heisman Trophy winner and runner-up, and a 32-year age gap between head coaches. If this game doesn’t excite you, you don’t love college football.
Alabama breezed through most of it’s schedule with little resistance, but the Crimson Tide have not seen an offense with anywhere near as much firepower as Oklahoma’s. On the other side, Nick Saban is licking his chops preparing to take on an OU defense that has struggled all season. Will Kyler Murray and the Sooner offense roll through Alabama the way it rolled through the Big 12 all season? Will OU’s defense be able to do enough to keep the game competitive? We’ll find out soon enough.
The last time these two teams met was in the 2014 Sugar Bowl when Trevor Knight and the Sooners entered as a 17.5 point underdog and stunned the college football world by winning 45-31.
According to Vegas, Oklahoma faces similarly long odds this year. Bovada currently has Alabama favored by 14 points. It will take some immense effort from Oklahoma to pull off another upset — this time over the No. 1 team in the country.
In the meantime, let’s get to know the team that will be lining up on the other side of the gridiron Saturday night while also familiarizing ourselves with the program in general.
Five Names to Know
Limiting this list to five was difficult, but this is a good place to start.
Tua Tagovailoa - Most noted for losing the Heisman Trophy race to Kyler Murray. In all seriousness, with the possible exception of Will Grier, OU hasn’t seen a quarterback of Tua’s caliber all year. He throws a beautiful deep ball which could be a problem for an OU secondary that has been prone to give up big plays. All signs point to Tua being ready to play come December 29 after suffering a high ankle sprain in the SEC Championship. Even if he is able to go, he may not have the same mobility he usually has which could work in the Sooners’ favor.
Jerry Jeudy - Won the Biletnikoff Award as the top receiver in the nation last week. Jeudy has been a nightmare for opposing secondaries this year, racking up 59 receptions for 1,103 yards and 12 touchdowns. He is Tua’s favorite target and will no doubt be a huge part of the gameplan for Alabama in the Orange Bowl.
Quinnen Williams - Eight sacks and 18 tackles for loss helped propel Williams to a first-team All-American selection and an Outland Trophy as the nation’s top interior lineman this season. The matchup between Williams and OU’s star-studded offensive line will be one of the most intriguing matchups to watch.
Deionte Thompson - Another first-team All-American. Thompson has two interceptions and four forced fumbles to his name this season and finished second on the team with 71 tackles.
Damien Harris - Alabama has several dangerous backs that could cause problems for the OU defense, but Damien Harris has asserted himself as the No. 1 option. Both he and Najee Harris (no relation) are averaging over six yards per carry this season. The running game could become even more of a focal point for the Tide if Tua isn’t 100% healthy.
Few teams in college football history have made 13-0 look as easy as the Crimson Tide have this season. The Tide began the year ranked No. 1 in every major poll and have not relinquished that ranking since. Prior to the SEC Championship Game, Alabama’s closest game was a 45-23 win over Texas A&M.
The Tide’s lone close game came in the conference championship against Georgia where they had to rely on former starter turned backup QB Jalen Hurts to come in and save the day after Tua Tagovailoa left with a high-ankle sprain. Two straight touchdown drives from Hurts and an assist from Kirby Smart’s head-scratching fake punt call on 4th and 11 propelled the Tide to a 35-28 win, solidified Bama as the No. 1 seed in the CFB Playoff, and opened the door for Oklahoma to move up to No. 4.
By the numbers
Offensive S&P+: 46.4 (2nd)
Defensive S&P+: 16.1 (8th)
S&P+ Margin: 29.7 (1st)
Total offense per game: 527.6 (7th)
Passing: 325.5 (7th)
Rushing: 202.2 (37th)
Points per game: 47.9 (2nd)
Yards per play: 7.6 (2nd)
Offensive efficiency (ESPN): 96.6 (2nd)
Defensive efficiency (ESPN): 88.2 (2nd)
Total defense per game: 295.4 (10th)
Passing defense: 178.4 (13th)
Rushing defense: 117.0 (19th)
Against top 25 (CFP): 4-0
Third-down conversions: 52.8% (2nd)
Fourth-down conversions: 44.4% (102nd)
Alabama Football History
Wins: 904 (4th)
Win percentage: .726 (5th)
Bowl appearances: 69 (1st)
Conference championships: 31 (7th)
Consensus All-Americans: 69 (6th)
First-round picks: 61 (5th)
Weeks in the AP Poll: 790 (5th)
This is one of the most frequently-debated stats in college football history. Before the BCS was implemented in 1998, there was no official national championship game so teams were sort of free to go full-UCF and pretty much claim national titles as they pleased. Depending on who you ask, Alabama has between 10 and 97 national championships. According to Jason Kirk’s tally of “consensus” national champions, Alabama has 11, which ties them with Notre Dame for third all time (and tied for first among current FBS schools).
However, the program “officially” claims 17 national championships: 1925, 1926, 1930, 1934, 1941, 1961, 1964, 1965, 1973, 1978, 1979, 1992, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, and 2017.
Heisman Trophy winners
Mark Ingram (2009) - It’s relatively surprising that Alabama didn’t have a Heisman winner until 2009 given the program’s historic success. Ingram won the closest Heisman vote in history, edging Stanford’s Toby Gerhart by just 28 points. Ingram recorded 1,992 total yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns during his Heisman campaign and led Alabama to it’s first national championship in 17 years.
Derrick Henry (2015) - Henry’s 2,219 rushing yards were the sixth most in a single season college football history. On a related note, he recorded the fifth most single-season rushing attempts ever at 395. He rushed for over 200 yards in a game four times against Auburn (46), Texas A&M (236), LSU (210), and Mississippi State (204).
Memorable Moments in Program History
2nd and 26 - 2017
“The Kick” - 1985
Goal line stand against Penn State - 1979
SEC fans have a long and proud tradition of inserting profanity into songs where it is not normally featured. If you’ve ever attended a fraternity party anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon Line, you know that there is an alternate version to the classic Alabama hit Dixieland Delight. This version is the one that the Alabama student section chose to sing every time the song was played at football games, and the tune was subsequently banned for a while.
Earlier this season, the administration agreed to allow the song back on the condition that the student section promised to leave out the profanity. And that’s totally what happened.
Just kidding. The student section sang the fun version (while even adding ‘F*** Auburn’ in new places) and the athletic department pumped in a ton of artificial crowd noise of people singing it the “correct way” so it wouldn’t sound as obvious on TV. Everybody wins!
Lmao they pumped in crowd noise so you couldn’t hear what the students/fans were saying.— Marq Burnett (@Marq_Burnett) October 14, 2018
There was an extra “Roll Tide” and “Beat Auburn” pumped in during Dixieland Delight pic.twitter.com/t3SKM26dTx
Honestly, this is one of the coolest traditions in college football.
Why are they the Crimson Tide?
‘Bama, considered an underdog, was playing Auburn in Birmingham back in 1907. The game ended in a tie, and after seeing their jerseys covered in red mud, the nickname was coined by Birmingham Age-Herald sports editor Hugh Roberts.
Why is the mascot an elephant?
Glad you asked. Long story short, one time a sportswriter compared Bama’s offensive line to a group of elephants, so now someone dresses up in an elephant costume.
Located less than an hour from Birmingham, Tuscaloosa is the fifth largest city in Alabama. Tuscaloosa is the textbook definition of a college town in many ways, but much of the town (the areas located further from campus) pretty much resembles the rest of that portion of the state. The capacity of Bryant Denny Stadium (101,821) is larger than the entire population of the town (100,287). Notable Tuscaloosa natives include U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, former Governor Robert Bentley, 5X MLB All-Star George Foster, and former Red Sox manager Butch Hobson.
If you want to get a feel for Crimson Tide fans, head on over to Roll Bama Roll, SB Nation’s Alabama site. C&C Machine’s Jack Shields also hopped on their podcast a couple of weeks ago to preview the Orange Bowl. You can follow them on Twitter @rollbamaroll.
Additionally, RBR’s Erik Evans paid us a visit this week.