Expert Orange Bowl Picks for College Football Playoff: Alabama vs. Oklahoma Predictions
Capital One Orange Bowl
Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Oklahoma Sooners, Saturday December 29, 8 p.m. ET
On paper this game has everything. The newly-minted Heisman winner up against the guy who was the presumed favorite right up to the final week of the season, and who ultimately finished second. The greatest coach in college football history against the hottest young up-and-comer in the sport. Two programs with a ridiculous amount of tradition and past success. The No. 1 offense in the country against one of just two teams that rank in the Top 10 nationally in both total offense and total defense. It should be the most compelling matchup you could imagine.
But, strangely, it's not. In fact, the spread in this game is the biggest of any bowl game being played. That's stunning. Some will say that the frustrating SEC bias of the media, and therefore the betting public, is a big cause of that. And it might be. But the bigger reason is that while Oklahoma is unstoppable on offense when in the groove, they managed to have only the 108th-best defense by total yards. Sure, the ridiculously-explosive playing style of the Big 12 is a factor in that, but it goes far deeper. Alabama has a chance of stopping, or at least slowing down, Kyler Murray and the Oklahoma offense. Oklahoma has almost no chance of containing Tua Tagovailoa and the Alabama offense. And that's how you get a spread this big.
I've mostly come around on the College Football Playoff, but matchups like this one - at least according to the odds - prove just how tough it is to take 130 teams and narrow it down to one in a meaningful way after just 15 games.
Alabama at Oklahoma Betting Storylines
Tua Tagovailoa is an outstanding quarterback, and we have to assume at this point he will be healthy again after being banged up in the SEC title game. He has a big arm and is very accurate. And Oklahoma ranks 129th nationally in passing yards allowed. There are only 130 FBS teams. That is a serious problem. Obviously. And, led by Biletnikoff Award winner Jerry Jeudy, they have a very strong group of receivers. Strong receivers have been a massive problem for the Sooners. Texas, Texas Tech, Iowa State and Oklahoma State all had a receiver go for at least 174 yards. David Sills at West Virginia had 131 yards and two scores. Oklahoma is immensely vulnerable through the air, and it is the biggest reason to fear for their life in this spot. Alabama has five receivers with more than 500 receiving yards, so they can find and exploit every weakness that the Sooners have. Alabama averaged 48 points a game this year and did so against a group of defenses better than this one. They are going to score. A lot.
Oklahoma outscored Alabama this year by a small margin. And they outscored the whole country. But look at their schedule and find an even sort of impressive defense. I'll wait - it's going to take a while. Texas is only barely average, and Oklahoma struggled against them last time out relative to the rest of their games. The best defense they faced was Army, which is Top 10 in total yards, and Oklahoma only scored 28 points and needed overtime to do so. They are not used to facing defenses like this one and are not at their best against the better defenses they have seen. They are going to see offensive adversity unlike anything they have seen before, and it is no certainty that they will handle it.
Alabama at Oklahoma Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with Alabama favored by 13.5 points , and that has since moved up to a full two touchdowns. A small majority of bettors have still been on Alabama, so the big spread isn't scaring people off. The total opened high at 79, climbed as high as 81, and has since fallen back slightly to 80.5.
The Sooners are 4-1 ATS in their last five against the SEC but just 3-9 ATS in their last 12 neutral-site games. They are 1-3-1 ATS in their last five games overall. Alabama is 5-2 ATS in their last seven games overall and 4-1 ATS in their last five against teams with winning records.
Alabama at Oklahoma Predictions and Picks
I couldn't be more impressed with Lincoln Riley as a coach, and I could watch Kyler Murray all day. I really want to like Oklahoma here, but I just don't see how I can do it. This is a whole lot of points to give up, but the Sooners are playing well on defense right now, and Oklahoma isn't. This game is going to be explosive - just look at the total - and ultimately I am not convinced Oklahoma can go punch-for-punch in this one. They'll still score a respectable number of points for a mortal team, but Alabama will just score more. And they will be able to do it quickly. Begrudgingly, Alabama is the pick. I wouldn't be too interested in giving up much more than 14 points, though.
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