Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:00 AM
Orange Bowl Preview
Editor’s Note: Brian Edwards is on a 10-6 run in college football since the Army-Navy game. Don’t miss out on the rest of bowl selections through the CFP finals!
Cotton Bowl Preview
Alabama and Oklahoma are poised to collide in Saturday’s Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami. This College Football Playoff semifinal pits the SEC champs vs. the Big 12 champs.
As of late Friday afternoon, most books had Alabama (13-0 straight up, 8-5 against the spread) installed as a 14-point favorite with a total of 77 or 77.5. The Sooners were +425 on the money line (risk $100 to win $425).
For first-half wagers, the Crimson Tide was favored by 7.5 points with a total of 39. OU had +310 odds to be leading at intermission. Nick Saban’s team went 10-0 ATS in the first half to start the season, but it has failed to cover the number in the first half of each of its last three contests.
Alabama won its first 12 games by 22 points or more, marking the first time in more than a century that a college football team had been so dominant. However, Saban’s team was pushed to the limit by Georgia – again – in the SEC Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Dec. 1.
Alabama trailed by double digits twice (21-7 and 28-14) and was tied or in catch-up mode for nearly 59 minutes. In fact, the Tide has been tied or trailed against UGA more than 118 minutes out of 120 played (plus overtime) in the last two head-to-head meetings. Of course, Alabama rallied to force overtime and eventually won a 26-23 decision over the Bulldogs in the finals of last year’s CFP.
Trailing 28-21 with a little more than 11 minutes left, Heisman Trophy runner-up Tua Tagovailoa went down with a foot injury and limped off the field needing assistance from the medical staff. In the blink of an eye, it was a complete reversal of roles for Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts.
Hurts led Alabama to a 26-2 record in 28 starts as a freshman and sophomore in 2016 and ’17. With his team down 13-0 at halftime to UGA in last year’s slugfest, Tagovailoa was called on to replace Hurts in the second half. We all know how that worked out.
I had sensed all year long, especially after Tagovailoa injured his knee late in a win at Arkansas, that Hurts would be called upon at some point during the season. But not necessarily at the same venue and against the same team when his career fortunes had taken a turn for the worse 11 months before.
Given the opportunity, Hurts took advantage and then some. He promptly guided the Tide to a game-tying TD drive that covered 16 plays, 80 yards and more than seven minutes of clock. Hurts capped the drive by hitting Jerry Jeudy with a 10-yard scoring strike.
After Kirby Smart lost his sanity and called a fake punt on fourth and 11 from around midfield with about three minutes left, Alabama took over with great field position. Hurts took his team down the field and gave it the lead for the first time on a 15-yard TD drive with 1:04 remaining.
Saban’s defense would shut the door on UGA and Alabama won a 35-28 decision to remain undefeated. The Bulldogs still took the cash as 11-point underdogs and the 63 points resulted in a push for wagers on the total.
Hurts completed 7-of-9 passes for 82 yards and one TD without an interception. The junior signal caller rushed for 28 yards and one score on five attempts. Tagovailoa had struggled the entire game, connecting on just 10-of-25 throws for 164 yards and one TD with a pair of interceptions. Josh Jacobs ran for 83 yards and two TDs on eight carries.
Tagovailoa indicated earlier this week that he was about 80-85 percent healthy. He underwent surgery on his ankle shorty after the win over UGA. The expectation is that he’ll start vs. OU, but how effective and comfortable he’ll be remains to be seen.
Tagovailoa has completed 67.7 percent of his passes for 3,353 yards with a 37/4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. When healthy, he’s a threat with his legs, as he’s run for 190 yards and five TDs with a 4.0 yards-per-carry average.
Hurts has completed 50-of-67 throws (74.6%) for 755 yards with an 8/2 TD-INT ratio. He’s rushed for 167 yards and two TDs while averaging 4.9 YPC.
Alabama is facing an Oklahoma defense that’s ranked dead last out of 130 FBS teams in pass defense, giving up 291.4 yards per game through the air. The Sooners are ranked No. 108 in the nation total defense, No. 54 versus the run and No. 96 in scoring ‘D’ (32.4 points per game).
The Tide is ranked fifth in the country in total offense, seventh in passing yards, 35th in rushing yards and second in scoring with its 47.9 PPG average. Alabama’s ground attack features a trio of outstanding RBs.
Damien Harris has run for 771 yards, seven TDs and averages 6.1 YPC. Najee Harris has 679 rushing yards, four TDs and a 6.7 YPC average, while Jacobs has run for 495 yards and 11 TDs with a 5.3 YPC average. Jacobs, who is also a standout on special teams, has 15 catches for 171 yards and two TDs.
Jeudy enjoyed a breakout campaign, catching 59 balls for 1,103 yards and 12 TDs. Jaylen Waddle has 41 receptions for 803 yards and seven TDs, while Henry Ruggs III has 42 grabs for 724 yards and 10 TDs. Irv Smith Jr. has 38 receptions for 648 yards and seven TDs, and Devonta Smith has 30 catches for 524 yards and five TDs.
Like Clemson, Alabama has three players suspended for the CFP semifinals. The most important of those is starting OG Deonte Brown.
Oklahoma (12-1 SU, 5-7-1 ATS) won its first five games, winning four times by double-digit margins. Lincoln Riley’s squad needed overtime to get past Army in a 28-21 win as a 30-point home ‘chalk,’ however. The Sooners took their only loss of the year by a 48-45 count vs. Texas on Oct. 6.
Since then, OU has ripped off seven straight victories, although we’ll note its 1-3-1 spread record in its past five outings. The Sooners won three one-possession games down the stretch, capturing a 51-46 triumph at Texas Tech a week before beating Oklahoma State 48-47 in Norman. In the regular-season finale at West Virginia on a short week (Friday game), they won 59-56 over the Mountaineers.
To get the fourth seed in the CFP just ahead of No. 5 Ohio State, Oklahoma faced a revenge game against the Longhorns in the Big 12 Championship Game. This time around, the Sooners got even and covered the spread in a 39-27 victory as 9.5-point favorites.
Junior QB Kyler Murray, the Heisman Trophy winner who beat out Tagovailoa for the award, completed 25-of-34 passes for 379 yards and three TDs without an interception. CeeDee Lamb had six receptions for 167 yards and one TD. Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown had five catches for 54 yards before suffering a foot injury.
For the season, Murray has connected on 70.9 percent of his passes for 4,053 yards with a 40/7 TD-INT ratio. Murray has run for 892 yards and 11 TDs with a 7.3 YPC average. He has Michael-Vick-like quickness and can not only elude pass rushers and scramble for positive yardage, but he can also keep plays alive hit streaking WRs. Obviously, he’ll be facing the toughest defense he’s seen, but pressure on the QB doesn’t necessarily translate to sacks when dealing with Murray.
Brown, who was upgraded to ‘probable’ Friday morning, has 75 receptions for 1,318 yards and 10 TDs. Lamb has caught 57 balls for 1,049 yards and 10 TDs, while Lee Morris has 21 grabs for 457 yards and eight TDs. Grant Calcaterra has 25 receptions for 378 yards and six TDs.
When star RB Rodney Anderson went down with a season-ending injury in Week 1, there was concern about depth at the position for OU. Those concerns were quickly alleviated by the emergence of redshirt freshman RB Kennedy Brooks, who has run for 1,021 yards and 12 TDs with a 9.0 YPC average. Trey Sermon has run for 928 yards and 12 TDs while averaging 6.0 YPC.
This is only the fourth underdog situation for the Sooners since Riley took over for Bob Stoops. They were ‘dogs three times last year, going 2-1 both SU and ATS. OU won outright by a 31-16 count at Ohio State as a seven-point puppy and captured a 62-52 win at Oklahoma State while catching 2.5 points. The loss came to Georgia in the epic Rose Bowl thriller won by the Bulldogs 54-48 in double overtime.
Oklahoma hasn’t been a double-digit underdog since thumping Alabama 45-31 as a 15-point ‘dog in the 2013 Sugar Bowl.
The ‘over’ has hit at an 8-4-1 clip for Alabama, which has seen its games average combined scores of 62.8 PPG.
The ‘over’ is 11-2 overall for the Sooners, who have watched their games average combined scores of 81.8 PPG.
Kickoff is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.
Follow Brian Edwards' sports gambling opinions on Twitter at @vegasbedwards.