X factors in the Sugar Bowl

Given talent gap between Alabama and Oklahoma, two factors could be key

Updated: January 2, 2014, 11:05 AM ET
By Todd McShay | ESPN Insider

McCarronJohn David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsWill AJ McCarron be able to connect on deep throws against Oklahoma's secondary?

When studying tape on the participants in Thursday night's Nokia Sugar Bowl (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) -- the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Oklahoma Sooners -- the first thing that jumps out is the overall talent gap between the two teams. Alabama has a significant talent advantage both among experienced players and overall, a point that comes into clearer focus when you check out the tables of each team's NFL draft prospects below (among prospects currently carrying draftable grades who will play in this game):

The Crimson Tide have six players who grade out higher than the Sooners' top prospect, cornerback Aaron Colvin, and feature three potential early first-round picks in linebacker C.J. Mosley, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio.

Given that talent gap, it isn't surprising that Bama is favored in Vegas by more than two touchdowns. It's not that the Sooners are a bad team; in fact, the defense is good enough that Oklahoma would be well-positioned to give Bama a game were it not for the one-dimensional nature of their offense. But they simply have not had any consistency in their passing game this season, and it's really hard to envision the Sooners overcoming that in this game against such a talented opponent.

You never know in bowl games how different motivational factors will affect the performances of both teams, and this will be Alabama's first game since its national title hopes were derailed in its Iron Bowl loss to Auburn. But since those can be close to impossible to predict, we decided to hone in on a couple of facets of the game that jumped out at us while we were watching tape -- we'll call them "X factors." These aren't intended to provide an upset recipe for OU, but they are areas in which the Sooners will need to perform well or run the risk of being blown out.