College Sports

Orange Bowl week has arrived. Here’s what you need to know about Alabama vs. Oklahoma

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One of the biggest games of the college football season is about to make its way to Miami.

The Alabama Crimson Tide and Oklahoma Sooners will compete in the Orange Bowl on Saturday night as one of two College Football Playoff semifinal. Kickoff at Hard Rock Stadium is set for 8 p.m. and the game will be televised on ESPN.

The winner will advance to face either Clemson or Notre Dame in the national championship game on Jan. 7 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.

Here’s what you need to know about the matchup:

How did they get here?

Alabama, the top team in college football, went a perfect 13-0 heading into the Orange Bowl and outscored opponents by an average of 33.1 points per game. In fact, the Crimson Tide’s only game decided by single digits this year was its 35-28 come-from-behind win in the SEC Championship Game against Georgia in which Alabama scored 21 unanswered points to close out the game. Alabama has been a part of all five College Football Playoffs.

Oklahoma, which finished No. 4 in the College Football Playoff rankings, went 12-1 on the season with its lone loss being a 48-45 defeat by Texas on Oct. 6. The Sooner got redemption for that loss, though, by defeating the Longhorns 39-27 in the Big 12 Championship. Oklahoma is making its third appearance in the College Football Playoff and is looking for its first win in the CFP. The Sooners lost 37-17 to Clemson in the 2015 Orange Bowl and 54-48 to Georgia in the Rose Bowl last season.

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Who are the top players?

The most noticeable matchup is going to be the battle between starting quarterbacks Kyler Murray and Tua Tagovailoa, who finished one-two in the Heisman Trophy standings.

Murray has thrown for 4,053 yards with 40 touchdowns to just seven interceptions. He threw for at least 300 yards and three touchdowns in eight of 13 games this year, including a 432-yard, six-touchdown game in Oklahoma’s 66-33 win over Baylor. His 11.9 yards per pass attempt leads the country.

Tagovailoa, the Crimson Tide’s hero in last season’s national championship game against Georgia, has been just as good. The sophomore has thrown for 3,353 yards with 37 touchdowns and four interceptions while completing 67.7 percent of his passes. Tagovailoa put up those numbers despite not playing in the fourth quarter of any game during the regular season.

In addition to the quarterbacks, Oklahoma and Alabama have five other players who were named consensus first-team All-Americans.

For Alabama: Wide receiver Jerry Jeudy (a Deerfield Beach High alumnus), offensive lineman Jonah Williams, defensive lineman Quinnen Williams and defensive back Deionte Thompson.

For Oklahoma: Offensive lineman Ben Powers.

Postseason history

Alabama has won 17 national championships, including five under coach Nick Saban and three since the start of the College Football Playoff. If Alabama were to win the national championship this year, Saban would tie legendary Crimson Tide head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant with six titles at the school.

Oklahoma has won seven national championships all-time but last won it all in 2000

Who is favored to win?

Alabama opened as a 14-point favorite over Oklahoma and that line as stayed pretty steady among the main sportsbooks.

When does each team arrive in town?

The Oklahoma Sooner arrive in Fort Lauderdale on Sunday night. The Alabama Crimson Tide arrive in Miami on Monday afternoon.

Why is the Orange Bowl a semifinal this year?

The Orange Bowl is one of six bowl games along with the Cotton Bowl, Peach Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Rose Bowl and Fiesta Bowls that rotates as the host for College Football Playoff semifinal games. The semifinal pairings are the Orange and Cotton, the Rose and the Sugar, and the Peach and the Fiesta.

This is the second time the Orange Bowl has served as a CFP semifinal. In the 2015-16 season, top-seeded Clemson defeated No. 4 seed Oklahoma 37-17.

Jordan McPherson covers the Miami Marlins and high school sports for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and covered the Gators athletic program for five years before joining the Herald staff in December 2017.
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