2009 Sugar Bowl Preview
by Trevor Whenham - 12/19/2008
Utah (12-0) vs. Alabama (12-1)
Conference matchup: Mountain West vs. SEC
Date: Friday, Jan. 2, 8:15 p.m.
Location: Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans
Spread: Alabama -10.5; total 45.5
The original BCS Buster is back in the BCS to try to do it all again. The last time Utah was here no one really knew what to expect, but when it was all said and done the legend of Urban Meyer was on a rocket ship straight up. This time around they are nearly the same degree of outsider. They'll find it hard to find widespread respect against one of the most storied programs in college football, though. Some would argue that Alabama sold their collective souls when they hired Nick Saban, but the effects of that decision have been swift and beyond expectations.
The Sugar Bowl is the second oldest bowl game after the Rose Bowl, having been played annually since 1935. Alabama is no stranger to the game, having compiled an 8-4 record in the Sugar Bowl since its first appearance in 1945. Utah is, not surprisingly, making its first appearance.
The line opened at 11, and is currently widely at 10.5. That's significant because the action is very heavily on Alabama - nearly nine out of 10 bets have been on them. The counter-intuitive line movement could indicate that smart money is interested in Utah. The total dropped from 46.5 to as low as 45. Alabama will do their part to go under - they have gone under in seven of their last eight games. Utah has the opposite preference, going over nine times in 11 tries.
If only they had a QB
Alabama put together an impressive season, and they did it with a quarterback that has no business starting for a top team in the SEC. That's not to say that he is terrible - he's in the middle of the pack in the conference in many statistical categories. It's just that with nine touchdowns and six interceptions he's not lighting the world on fire, and he doesn't do a lot to make Alabama better by himself. He's lucky to have enough talent around him to make up for his shortcomings, though. Glen Coffee led the conference in rushing, and he and Mark Ingram lifted the team to No. 2 in the conference for rushing. Add Julio Jones, the best freshman receiver in the country by a wide margin, to the mix and Wilson has some tools. In other words, Wilson isn't God, but he's not bad enough to lose this one himself.
All defense, all the time
Alabama is where it is because of its defense. The Crimson Tide have the third best defense in the country, and they give up an average of just 13 points per game. They only allowed more than 20 points twice, and opponents were held to 10 or fewer on seven different occasions. It's an impressively good defense given the youth and the lack of marquee stars. This will be tough for Utah to overcome, but they won't be caught off guard. They have already played and beaten TCU, one of the two defenses ranked higher than Alabama's. Utah is no slouch defensively, either - they are ranked in the Top 20 nationally, and trail only TCU in the MWC. They are particularly good against the run, so it will be strength against strength when Alabama has the ball.
One word for Utah's offense? Inconsistent
The Utes scored 111 points in their last two games. In the two before that they had just 26. Led by QB Brian Johnson, the offense clearly has the ability to be potent. Until the game starts, though, you can't be sure which version of the Utah offense will show up. They are likely to see defensive speed that they aren't used to, so finding a rhythm could be a problem. That lack of rhythm would likely be a deathblow for Utah's chances.
Saban and bowls
Nick Saban clearly made a deal with the devil at some point, but it doesn't seem to extend to bowl season. Saban won his first bowl at Alabama last year, but that only raised his career bowl record to 4-5. For a coach that is 125-66-1 on his career, that's well below expectations.
Trends to Note
The Utes are 5-0 ATS in their last five games as underdogs of 10.5 or more, and 5-1 ATS in their last six bowl games.
Alabama is 5-0 in their last five games as the favorite, and 4-1 ATS in their last five non-conference games.