Players to watch

Oklahoma RB Brennan Clay

The Sooners aren’t sure what they’ll get from their quarterback tandem of Blake Bell and Trevor Knight. But both will have an easier job if Clay, who averages 5.8 yards per carry, can present a consistent threat in the running game. The Bama defense had trouble defending Auburn’s running game last time out. And the less time the Tide has the ball the better for the Sooners.

Alabama QB AJ McCarron

The Heisman Trophy runner-up is concluding one of the most successful careers in college football history with a chance to author one more memorable performance. The Crimson Tide’s offensive balance and McCarron’s remarkable efficiency present a rare challenge for the Sooners’ speedy and talented defense.

Top storylines

Oklahoma: Bell-Knight or Knight-Bell? Can the Sooners’ two-headed quarterback keep Bama’s stingy defense off-balance? Bell is a pocket passer who’s strong enough to gain yards on the ground, especially in short-yardage situations. Knight is elusive and adept at running the read-option but can be an adequate passer. One or both of them has to come up with a consistent effort if OU is to win.

Alabama: Actions speak louder than words. The Tide players say they are determined not to duplicate the performance of their 2009 counterparts, who seemed to let the disappointment of a loss to the Florida in the SEC title game lead to an uninspired loss to Utah here. This group says it has put the Iron Bowl disappointment behind it and is determined to re-establish its dominance.

Key matchup

The speed of the Oklahoma defense against the strength of the Bama offense: The Sooners have defensive strength and the Tide has offensive speed, too, but OU is used to defending spread attacks in the Big 12 and now must contend with Bama’s pro-style attack. If the Sooners can hold their own up front, they have a chance. If not, it’ll be the return of the Red Elephants.

Predictions

Ted Lewis: Alabama 38, Oklahoma 14

Alabama’s talent level is far superior to Oklahoma’s, and it’s hard to believe Nick Saban would let his team come into the game sporting the same mindset it had when it faced Utah in the 2009 Sugar Bowl. If that did happen, I sure wouldn’t want to be an Alabama player in the offseason.

Les East: Alabama 27, Oklahoma 24

If the four-team playoff were in effect this season, Bama might well be the favorite, and OU wouldn’t be involved. So there’s potential for a Tide rout. But don’t sell the Sooners short. They won 10 games, finished strong and might have a psychological edge. AJ McCarron and C.J. Mosley aren’t going to lose their last college game, but they’ll have to earn the win.