It’s hard to top the first time Alabama played Oklahoma: The scene was the 1963 Orange Bowl, the respective coaches were legends Bear Bryant and Bud Wilkinson, and the Crimson Tide quarterback was Joe Namath. The coin was tossed by President John F. Kennedy.
And yet despite all that swinging ’60s star power, the matchup was essentially meaningless — a 17-0 Alabama victory in a season where Texas won the national championship.
Not so in this latest edition, which is once again in the Orange Bowl (the game, not the old stadium), and serves as a College Football Playoff semifinal with the winner moving on to play for the title.
The Dec. 29 game pits top-seeded Alabama against the fourth-seeded Sooners, who overcame chronic defensive problems to win the Big 12 title and edge Georgia and Ohio State for the tournament’s final spot.
Orange Bowl 2018 Betting Trends
Alabama also opened as a 14-point favorite against Georgia, a line that closed at 12, and which the Tide did not cover in the 35-28 victory. It was Alabama’s second loss against the spread in its past seven games, the other in that span coming against The Citadel, a game with a 53.5-point line.
The Tide is 8-5 ATS overall, also failing to cover three early-season games against Arkansas, Texas A&M, and Louisiana-Lafayette.
In the SEC championship, Alabama and Georgia pushed on the final over/under total of 63, after the Tide had gone over in its final two regular-season games.
Alabama has gone over the total eight times this year, with 69 combined points — 10 lower than the over/under for the Orange Bowl — being the highest number they’ve exceeded in a single game.
In the Big 12 title game, Oklahoma opened at -7 and won as a 9.5-point favorite. It was the Sooners’ first ATS victory in over a month — and not coincidentally, their best defensive showing over that same span.
Oklahoma’s defensive issues have cost them against the spread; the Sooners are 5-7-1 in that category, with six of those defeats coming in games where they were double-digit favorites. The Orange Bowl is the first time this season the Sooners have played as an underdog.
Oklahoma has gone over the total 10 times this season. One exception was the Big 12 title game against Texas, where the Sooners finished under the combined total for the first time since September, snapping a streak of nine straight overs or pushes.
Oklahoma has twice gone over a total greater than the 79 set for the Orange Bowl: 88 in a victory over West Virginia, and 80 in a victory over Oklahoma State.
2018 Orange Bowl Betting Tips
Monitor Tua’s Health
Alabama starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa suffered a high ankle sprain that knocked him out of the SEC championship, setting the stage for the heroics by backup Jalen Hurts.
Tagovailoa reportedly underwent surgery the day after the game, and was expected to be out two weeks. “Hopefully by the time we start practicing again, Tua will be back on field and ready to go,” Tide coach Nick Saban told reporters.
Despite the positive showing in the Big 12 title game, Oklahoma’s defense still ranks 108th out of 129 FBS teams. Alabama ranks ninth in total defense; the best defensive team Oklahoma has played is Army, ranked 11th, which fell 28-21 to the Sooners in a game that finished under the 60-point total, and which the Sooners lost against the spread.
How Will Sooner QB Fare?
Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray is the nation’s third-leading passer with 4,053 yards and 40 touchdowns. The top passer Alabama has faced so far this season is Jordan Ta’amu of Ole Miss, ranked fourth nationally — who was sacked four times, intercepted twice, and held to 133 yards in a 62-7 Crimson Tide rout.
Orange Bowl 2018 Early Best Bet
Take under 79 points. Tagovailoa didn’t look his best even before the ankle injury against Georgia, and will be coming off a layoff before facing the Sooners. And Oklahoma’s high-powered offense hasn’t faced anything like Alabama’s defense to this point.