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Jumbo Package: Orange Bowl previews start rolling in as Early Signing Period approaches

Happy Friday, everyone. In effort to beat the rush, a couple of analysts have already made score predictions for the Orange Bowl.

The Crimson Tide and Sooners provide one of the most-anticipated match-ups of bowl season – highlighted by the quarterback play. Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray took home the Heisman Trophy this year, but Alabama has the runner-up on its sideline in Tua Tagovailoa.

Las Vegas books predict a high-scoring affair as this game features two of the highest-scoring offenses in college football.

On Thursday afternoon, ESPN college football analyst Mark Schlabach gave his prediction for the game.

Prediction: Alabama 54, Oklahoma 38

ORANGE BOWL (Dec. 29, Alabama -14 vs. Oklahoma; O/U 81): A Heisman Trophy isn’t always a handicapper’s tool, but this year may prove the exception. Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa finished one-two in the voting. The Crimson Tide’s defense doesn’t need added motivation, but after the Heisman decision, several of Tua’s teammates tweeted out their desire to prove the voters wrong. Talking about shutting down Murray’s considerable talents and then doing it are two entirely different tasks, but coach Nick Saban knows his players will not lose focus preparing to stop the Sooners. There are huge differences between these two defenses. The Sooners have given up 53 touchdowns this year, the Tide only 25. It works out to 32 points against Oklahoma per game and only 15 against Alabama. I’m willing to lay the 14.

Alabama 38, Oklahoma 21.

Both are picking Alabama to just cover, but I think the first fellow’s score is much closer to reality. The Tide have the athletes on defense to create some havoc and get some stops, but Oklahoma is going to make some big plays too, and on the other side it’s tough to envision that defense stopping Alabama more than once or twice. Granted, it’s football and predicted shootouts often turn into slogs, but there is just too much talent on both offenses to forecast anything else.

The Detroit News has suggestions on which games to watch and which to avoid.

As much fun as it would have been to pick some random game like, say, the Alamo Bowl between Iowa State and Washington State, it’s pretty tough to avoid how good this national semifinal between No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Oklahoma might be. The oddsmakers aren’t giving the Sooners much of a shot to pull the upset, but that was to be expected. Just the Heisman winner/runner-up battle between quarterbacks Kyler Murray and Tua Tagovailoa will be fun enough to watch, but if there’s an offense that can make the Crimson Tide defense look ordinary, it might be Oklahoma’s. Whichever team wins this game could either be worn out or riding a wave of momentum by the time it gets to the national title game a week later, so we’ll just enjoy what should be a classic matchup.

This will certainly be the most watched bowl game, as Alabama’s postseason games usually are. And, as usual, 5% of those watching will be rooting hard for the Tide and 95% will be rooting hard against them.

If there is any silver lining to Tua Tagovailoa’s bum ankle, it’s that Oklahoma has to worry about two QBs now.

Alabama could easily switch its quarterbacks just for a new look.

“I remember Notre Dame did that to us,” LSU defensive back Greedy Williams said. “They were starting their other quarterback, then the running quarterback came in and we never practiced for him.

“So it’s kind of like you’ve got to switch up and cover things. I know it’s difficult when the defensive coordinator only practiced for one quarterback and then the other comes in and does totally different things.”

Jalen and Tua run the same offense, but the playcalling changes to a bit more QB lead and power when Hurts plays, and he runs with authority. Tua is more a finesse runner who is better suited to spread the defense out and distribute the ball all over the place. Jalen’s improved passing ability certainly inspires confidence should he be called upon.

Several Alabama players have pro decisions to make after the season, and SEC Championship MVP Josh Jacobs is chief among them.

Why you go? Jacobs has been Alabama’s do-everything player this season, and he’s done all of it well — rushing, receiving, blocking and returning kickoffs. An argument can be made that the true junior has been the Tide’s best back in 2018 in what is another crowded backfield. He isn’t listed in CBS Sports’ initial database, but Jacobs has impressed NFL scouts. This is also not a deep draft for running backs, meaning Jacobs could be one of the top players at his position.

Why you stay? If he returns to Tuscaloosa, which Jacobs has vaguely hinted at — although not as outright as Wilson — he will be the No. 1 back with Damien Harris running out of eligibility. He would also have another year to make a case for top draft-eligible running back in 2020.

For the year, Jacobs has 94 rushes for 495 yards, a 5.3 yards per carry average, and a team-high 11 rushing touchdowns. The 59-yard run against Georgia was his longest of the year.

He has 13 kickoff returns for 398 yards, a 30.6 average, including the 77-yard TD runback against Louisville.

As a receiver, he has 15 catches for 171 yards, 11.4 yards per catch, with two touchdowns.

And although it doesn’t show up in statistics, Jacobs is also an excellent blocker.

Personally, I think Jacobs is as good as gone. He may or may not be the first back off the board, but he is probably the most NFL ready back in the country. There are no holes in his game.

QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama (+200): By losing this year, Tagovailoa has a better chance to win the Heisman in 2019. Voters are extremely reluctant to give the award to a player twice, as it has only happened once (Archie Griffin in 1974 and ‘75). Also, Oklahoma State QB Kyler Murray will be a professional athlete of some sort, most likely as a member of the Oakland Athletics minor league system. Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins hasn’t announced a decision publicly, but he’s almost certain to declare for the NFL draft.

Voters are also extremely reluctant to consider the defenses played, but I digress. At least Tua was honored with the Polynesian College Football Player of the Year Award to go with his Walter Camp and Maxwell Awards.

Ale Kaho spoke about his transfer to Alabama.

“I had the butterflies and I was nervous at the same time,” Kaho said. “I just had to keep my confidence and the older guys in my position, like Mack Wilson and Dylan Moses and Josh McMillan, they all took me in, so it made me feel a lot more comfortable after the first two practices. And it just went from there.”

Hopefully Mack Wilson comes back with Dylan Moses next season, and Kaho is able to work into a more prominent rotational role.

Last, as we approach the early signing period, most of the attention is on the uncommitted guys like Nakobe Dean, Evan Neal and Trey Sanders. Lost in the shuffle are the guys who pledged early and never wavered, like Antonio Alfano and Justin Eboigbe.

Watch film of these two gentlemen and you will feel very good about the future of Alabama’s defensive line under the outstanding Coach Kool.

That’s about it for today. Have a great weekend.

Roll Tide.



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