The Alabama Crimson Tide aren't used to playing this early. While a Jan. 2 date in the Sugar Bowl would be big for anyone else -- including the Oklahoma Sooners -- the Tide have to see it as a premature ending. Instead of being in the Jan. 6 national championship game and playing for an unprecedented three-peat, the Tide are merely playing for No. 2 against the heavy underdogs from Oklahoma.
The last time the Tide took the field, they were victims of one of the most celebrated plays in college football history. When the Auburn Tigers upset Alabama on a 109-yard return from a missed field goal to end regulation, they also went on to take the Tide's expected place in the BCS title game. But given Alabama's perfect record beforehand, the BCS still found room for it.
That somewhere turned out to be the Sugar Bowl, which also has another unlikely participant in the Sooners. Oklahoma seemed destined for a smaller bowl until it upset the Oklahoma State Cowboys on Dec. 7. Between that and the Northern Illinois Huskies' upset loss in their conference title game, a BCS at-large bid suddenly opened up for the two-loss Sooners.
In spite of that, the Sooners are more than two-touchdown underdogs to the Tide. Of course, the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1 already saw a heavy underdog win a BCS game. Still, while the lightly regarded Central Florida Knights upset the Baylor Bears by 52-42 in Glendale, the Bears are not the Tide.
The Knights' shocker was perhaps the biggest BCS upset since the Sooners' own famed loss to the Boise State Broncos in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. One game that came close involved the Tide and the Sugar Bowl, when the Utah Utes throttled Alabama at New Orleans in 2009. Given how the Tide might still be hung over from Auburn, the Sooners could provide a shocker of their own.
However, since this is A.J. McCarron's final game and since the Tide can still finish at No. 2 -- perhaps behind a No. 1 Auburn -- Alabama may stay focused after all. Virtually no one can beat the Tide when they are focused, as it has taken improbable heroics before they've lost in the last three years. Do the Sooners have that much in them?
The Tide and Sooners will find out at 8:30 p.m. est on ESPN.