No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Oklahoma: Orange Bowl preview and predictions

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No. 1 Alabama (13-0) vs. No. 4 Oklahoma (12-1)

Location: Miami | When: Dec. 29 (8 p.m. ET) | TV: ESPN | Line: Alabama -14

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HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE

Alabama: The Crimson Tide became the first team since Yale all the way back before 1900 to beat every opponent in the regular season by 20 or more points. That stretch didn’t extend to the SEC Championship Game, where Georgia gave Alabama all it could handle before Jalen Hurts executed a storybook comeback and preserved Alabama’s undefeated season. Get over yourself if you think Alabama played a soft schedule. The Tide beat LSU, Texas A&M and Mississippi State in addition to Georgia. Two of its non-conference opponents made bowl games (Louisiana and Arkansas State) and a third should have (Louisville) if it wasn’t an abject dumpster fire.

Oklahoma: As Alabama was setting modern college football records, so was Oklahoma. The Sooners have averaged 8.6 yards per play in 2018 and are the most prolific offense in college football history. That number is up from the 8.1 yards per play that Oklahoma averaged a year ago. The only blemish on the schedule is a loss to Texas at the Cotton Bowl that was avenged in the Big 12 Championship Game. But while Oklahoma’s offense has been awesome, the defense has given up more than 32 points per game.

[Pete Thamel: Five ways Oklahoma can beat Alabama]

Oklahoma’s Kennedy Brooks (L) has rushed for over 1,000 yards on just 113 carries. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)
Oklahoma’s Kennedy Brooks (L) has rushed for over 1,000 yards on just 113 carries. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

The health of Tua Tagovailoa: The Heisman runner-up said his surgically-repaired right ankle was feeling about 80-85 percent on Wednesday. How much will that impact him? If Tagovailoa has to stay in the pocket more, that shouldn’t be much of an issue against an Oklahoma secondary that isn’t able to cover for very long. Tagovailoa may not be getting past his first reads very often.

How Alabama contains Kyler Murray: Will the Tide use a spy on Murray? Post a defender up outside each tackle and play zone and keep Murray in the pocket? Try something incredibly unconventional and see if it works? Murray, who bested Tagovailoa for the Heisman Trophy, is a fantastic passer whose improvisational ability is the best in college football. If Alabama can take away his ability to make something out of little-to-nothing, Oklahoma may have a long night.

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What Lincoln Riley learned from the Rose Bowl: Oklahoma and Georgia were in an epic shootout in last year’s playoff. But the Bulldogs came back to force overtime in the second half by switching to a more man-to-man based system and pressuring Baker Mayfield more. What’s Riley’s gameplan if Smart’s longtime mentor does something similar? Murray is a more dynamic runner than Mayfield is, so maybe it’s with designed runs for his quarterback or more option-based looks. Given the Oklahoma defense’s issues, Riley can’t afford to waste many, if any, possessions.

Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle is averaging nearly 20 yards a catch. (AP Photo/John Amis)
Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle is averaging nearly 20 yards a catch. (AP Photo/John Amis)

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama: The freshman has become a ridiculous deep threat for the Crimson Tide. Waddle has 41 catches for 803 yards. He’s second on the team in receiving yards and leads the team with 19.6 yards per catch. He’s been especially good over the last three games of the season. Waddle had three catches for 73 yards and a touchdown against Auburn and followed that game up with four catches for 113 yards and a score against Georgia. A long touchdown for Waddle spells bad news for Oklahoma.

Kennedy Brooks, RB, Oklahoma: What if we told you that Oklahoma could lose Rodney Anderson after 11 carries and would still have a realistic chance at getting three 1,000-yard rushers? While Trey Sermon is 72 yards away and Murray is 108 yards away from 1,000 yards, Kennedy Brooks is already there. The redshirt freshman is third on the team in carries with 113 but has 1,021 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. Yes, that’s nine yards a carry and fewer than 10 carries per touchdown. Brooks had 165 or more yards in each of Oklahoma’s last three regular-season games before he was held to 28 yards on 10 carries against Texas.

PREDICTIONS

Nick Bromberg: Alabama 61, Oklahoma 51
Sam Cooper: Alabama 52, Oklahoma 41
Pat Forde: Alabama 60, Oklahoma 35

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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