"Sooner Nation, we just got some great news," Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said in a video posted to Twitter shortly after the announcement was made. The Crimson Tide knew they were headed to the playoff. What the defending champions don't know is who will be at quarterback for their semifinal matchup.
Alabama starter Tua Tagovailoa was diagnosed Sunday with a high right ankle sprain, Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said on ESPN shortly after the pairings were announced. When Tagovailoa went down in the Southeastern Conference title game Saturday — a game where Alabama had to rally past Georgia — the Tide turned to former starter Jalen Hurts, who threw for one touchdown and then ran for the winning TD with about a minute left.
"I love both of these guys," Saban said. "They've done great things for our program. I hated that Tua got hurt in the game, but it was very, very emotional for me to see Jalen have the opportunity and take advantage of it and our team and our fans respond to him in a positive way."
Saban said Alabama typically treats high ankle sprains as "a two-week deal," so if that timeframe holds true Tagovailoa will have plenty of time to get ready for the Orange Bowl. Ohio State, Georgia and even UCF all felt like they deserved a spot, but the selection committee felt Oklahoma's resume was the best off that long list of contenders for the fourth and final entry into the playoff.
"The one-loss conference champion carried the day," CFP selection chairman Rob Mullens said on the televised announcement of the pairings. Alabama has won 15 consecutive games, starting with its two wins in last season's playoff. Oklahoma's only defeat this season was to Texas, a 48-45 game on a neutral field in Dallas on Oct. 6 — and the Sooners won the rematch in Saturday's Big 12 title game, 39-27.
The Sooners had to wait and sweat out the official word. "They're a pretty dynamic group," Saban said. "They've got a lot of weapons, they make a lot of explosive plays." It's a matchup of the two highest-scoring teams in the nation this season. Oklahoma, led by Heisman Trophy hopeful quarterback Kyler Murray, averages 49.5 points per game. Alabama averages 47.9 points per game.
Murray has faced Alabama once before: He was 2 for 4 passing for Texas A&M in a game against the Tide in 2015. "He is a very dynamic guy in terms of his athletic ability, his quickness, his ability to make plays with his feet," Saban said. "He's turned into a really, really efficient passer who has good skill guys to make good plays to go along with the rest of their weapons."
Alabama-Oklahoma got slotted for the Orange Bowl instead of the Cotton Bowl in large part because of how close the Sooners' home is to Dallas. It would have largely been a home game for Oklahoma had this matchup been in the Cotton Bowl.
Alabama is going to the Orange Bowl for the ninth time. This will be Oklahoma's 20th trip to the Orange Bowl, extending the Sooners' record for most appearances in the game.
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