Most oddsmakers believe there is a two-touchdown difference between Oklahoma and Alabama entering the Orange Bowl.
It is of little concern to OU coach Lincoln Riley, who will start preparations for the program’s third appearance in the College Football Playoff in four seasons.
“We just go about our business the way that we always do. We’ve got a lot of respect for the team we’re getting ready to play,” Riley said during a Sunday afternoon conference call with Alabama coach Nick Saban. “No question about that. We’ve got a formula that we believe in, and we’ve got a program that’s used to winning and players that are used to winning.”
The Dec. 29 game will have a 7 p.m. start and be played at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.
The survivor of No. 4 Oklahoma’s game against top-ranked Alabama will face the national semifinal game winner between No. 2 Clemson and No. 3 Notre Dame, who will meet earlier in the day at the Cotton Bowl.
The national championship game is Jan. 7 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
Oklahoma (12-1) is the only team with a loss in this year’s four-team playoff. Alabama (13-0), Clemson (13-0) and Notre Dame (12-0) were unscathed this season.
“We know it’s gonna be a great challenge but we’re gonna go prepare like we do. Our goal for us will be to be at our very best,” Riley said. “We can’t control any of the outside factors. It’s for us to be at our very best. I feel like despite some of the great things that this team’s been able to accomplish this year, that our best football is still out there. I feel like we’re heading in that direction. We’ll do that and let it fall the way it falls.”
After Saturday’s heavyweight slew of championship games, there was a push for Georgia (which narrowly lost to Alabama) and Ohio State (Big Ten champion) for the coveted fourth and final playoff spot.
After hours of heated debate — both inside the CFP selection committee’s board room and in the media — the Sooners emerged at No. 4. Georgia was No. 5 and Ohio State ended at No. 6. The only change from the next-to-last ranking was OU and Georgia swapping positions.
CFP chairman Rob Mullens said there was plenty of talk about the three schools, adding “the debate was deep, detailed and occasionally contentious. There was division.”
The 13-person panel could not unequivocally say one school was better than the other two, he said. It was very close and there were arguments for all three. When OU and Ohio State were discussed, committee members Joe Castiglione (OU athletic director), Frank Beamer (father of Sooners assistant coach Shane Beamer) and Gene Smith (Ohio State AD) had to recuse themselves from the room.
“Oklahoma was ranked No. 4 because they’re a one-loss conference champion with a dynamic offense, and their one loss was a close game to a ranked team (Texas) at a neutral site,” Mullens said. “Georgia was ranked No. 5 because of their wins against highly ranked teams, their impressive performance against Alabama in the conference championship game, and because of how balanced a team they are.
“Ohio State was ranked No. 6 because they’re a one-loss conference champion with a big win over Michigan. The committee ranked them behind Georgia because the committee thinks highly of Georgia’s body of work. We also think highly of Ohio State’s body of work, but at times they have been inconsistent. We noted their only loss was to an unranked team (Purdue).”
This will be the sixth meeting between Oklahoma and Alabama. The Sooners lead the series 3-1-1 and have won the past three games — 45-31 (2013 season’s Sugar Bowl), 20-13 (2003 in Tuscaloosa) and 37-27 (2002 in Norman).
The game will be intriguing because it matches the Heisman Trophy’s top two candidates — OU quarterback Kyler Murray and his Alabama counterpart Tua Tagovailoa.
Nick Saban was asked what he know about Murray.
“Well I haven’t watched him much. I’ve seen him on TV a couple of times. I think he’s about as dynamic as any player I’ve seen all season long,” Saban said. “He’s got great quickness, does a good job of executing their offense. Can run, can throw, can make a lot of explosive plays. They’ve got a really good offensive scheme, and the system is something he flourishes in.”
There is an injury storyline for both teams entering the Orange Bowl.
OU’s leading wide receiver Marquise Brown left Saturday’s 39-27 win over Texas with a boot after suffering an injury. Riley didn’t address the specific injury but said that some preliminary tests were done after the game and also on Sunday morning.
“The extent of that is still a little bit unknown. But we’ve got a great medical team and we’ll fight hard to try to get him back,” Riley said. “If we can, that’s certainly great. He’s a dynamic player. But if he doesn’t, I think we were able to show yesterday that we’ve got guys that are more than capable of stepping in and making the big plays that we’ve come to expect from Marquise.”
Saban said an MRI revealed an injury to Tagovailoa and the quarterback will have a procedure to help a high ankle sprain suffered during Saturday’s 35-28 win over Georgia.
“We’re hopeful that by the time we get started in practice, he’ll be ready to go,” Saban said.