Sugar Bowl: OU vs. Alabama
Alabama head coach Nick Saban, right, and Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops pose with the Sugar Bowl trophy during an NCAA college football news conference in New Orleans, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014. Oklahoma takes on Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on Thursday. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) Image by ASSOCIATED PRESS
NEW ORLEANS (AP) Whatever Bob Stoops may have said about the overall strength of the Southeastern Conference, that apparently doesn't apply when it comes to the challenge he sees before 11th-ranked Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.
The Sooners' coach made that clear on the eve of Thursday night's matchup with No. 3 Alabama.
Stoops says Alabama, in his eyes, is "still the best team in the country."
Last spring, Stoops challenged the notion that the SEC - home of the last seven national champions - is the strongest league in the nation.
Now his Sooners (10-2), which play in the Big 12, can back that up by beating Alabama (11-1), but Stoops knows that won't be easy.
Oklahoma is rarely a double-digit underdog, but Alabama is listed as a 16-point favorite.
No. 3 Alabama (11-1) vs. No. 11 Oklahoma (10-2), 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Line: Alabama by 16.
Series Record: Oklahoma leads 2-1-1.
WHAT'S AT STAKE
After being bounced from the national title picture in its final regular season game, Alabama still has a shot to finish as high as No. 2 in the rankings. The Crimson Tide also is looking to increase its nation-leading bowl victory total to 35 and its Sugar Bowl victory total to nine. Oklahoma aims to finish with a Top 10 ranking and back up coach Bob Stoops, who last offseason said the notion that the Southeastern Conference is the best league in college football is based on "propaganda."
Oklahoma's defense, ranked 13th nationally, will have its hands full with an Alabama offense that features Heisman Trophy finalist AJ McCarron at quarterback, as well as running back T.J. Yeldon and receiver Amari Cooper.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Oklahoma: RB Brennan Clay leads a Sooners running game averaging 235.8 yards per game. Clay has rushed for 913 yards and six TDs, averaging 5.8 yards per carry.
Alabama: McCarron is playing his final game for the Crimson Tide. He was the Heisman Trophy runner-up, winner of the Maxwell Award for player of the year and won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. He is 36-3 in three seasons as a starter. Linebacker C.J. Mosely won the Butkus Award given to the nation's top linebacker.
FACTS & FIGURES
Alabama's only victory over Oklahoma came in the 1963 Orange Bowl. ... The Crimson Tide and Sooners played to a 24-all tie in the 1970 Bluebonnet Bowl. ... The Sooners have beaten the Tide twice in the regular season. ... Oklahoma is playing in its 47th bowl in program history and 15th straight under Stoops. ... Oklahoma is 27-18-1 in bowl games. ... The Sooners are making their ninth BCS Bowl appearance, more than any other program. ... Oklahoma has played in six previous Sugar Bowls, winning four. ... The Sooners' last appearance in the Sugar Bowl came in January 2004, a loss to LSU for the BCS national title. ... Alabama last played in the Sugar Bowl in January 2009, losing 31-17 to Utah, and has not lost a bowl game since. ... The Tide last closed out a season in New Orleans in January 2012, winning the BCS title game against LSU. ... Alabama is making its 14th Sugar Bowl appearance. ... Stoops and Alabama coach Nick Saban have two of the top three winning percentages among active college coaches with at least 10 seasons as a head coach. Stoops is second (behind Ohio State's Urban Meyer) with a winning percentage of .803 (159-39), while Saban is third at .745 (165-56-1).
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