NORMAN — For the third time this season, Oklahoma will enter a game as a double-digit underdog.
The Sooners are currently a 14-point underdog to Alabama for the Jan. 2 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, and if that line holds, it would be the biggest line against the Sooners in the Bob Stoops era.
Here's a look at five reasons why Oklahoma might, might have a better chance than most expect in the Sugar Bowl:
1. The way each team's regular season ended.
Alabama lost a last-second heartbreaker to archrival Auburn in its regular-season finale, while Oklahoma went to Stillwater and mounted a stunning comeback in the final minutes and stunned the No. 6 Cowboys.
Alabama's loss not only cost it a shot at the SEC and national championships, it gave Auburn those opportunities. That could be a tough pill for the Crimson Tide players to swallow, and if they enter the Sugar Bowl disinterested or unmotivated, that might give OU a glimmer of hope.
2. The return of the Riverboat Gambler.
One of the most impressive, memorable risks Bob Stoops took early in his tenure at Oklahoma came against the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa.
With OU leading Alabama 13-10 late in the third quarter, it faced a fourth-and-10 play at its own 31-yard line. Stoops dialed up a fake punt, resulting in a 22-yard gain that set up the game-clinching touchdown a play later.
Stoops has grown more conservative in recent years, but a successful fake field goal against Oklahoma State would seem to indicate a possible return of the Riverboat Gambler.
If the Sooners are going to have any chance against the more talented Crimson Tide, Stoops will have to be willing to pull out all the stops again.
3. OU's demonstrated ability to run the ball effectively.
The Sooners have rushed for at least 200 yards eight times this season, including four games with at least 300 rushing yards.
In Auburn's upset victory Nov. 30, the Tigers rushed the ball 52 times for 296 yards, and attempted only 16 passes. If that's the recipe for beating Alabama, Oklahoma might have the personnel to put up a fight, as long as the quarterback — whomever it might be — is capable of completing enough timely passes to keep the Tide defense honest.
4. The Sooner defense has been solid.
Oklahoma's defense has really played well for the most part this season. Even in the Sooners' embarrassing loss at Baylor, the defense held strong early, and only fell apart after it continued to get no help from its offense.
The Sooners are 23rd in the nation in scoring defense, and 13th in total defense. If OU's offense can do its part and avoid three-and-outs, it's not unreasonable to think the defense could have some success against Alabama.
5. The chip on OU's collective shoulder.
For as much as Stoops, his staff and his players insist they don't pay attention to what's said and written about them, it's obvious that they're at least aware of the overall perception of the program: The talent is down; the program is in decline; OU isn't near the level of the Alabamas and Auburns of the world; etc.
The Crimson Tide really don't have much to prove in the Sugar Bowl — three out of the last four national titles says everything you need to know about the state of their program — but the Sooners have everything to play for and lots to prove.
We've seen time and time again that in football, a team can be greatly overmatched physically, but still find a way to prevail. Oklahoma faces long odds and a steep, uphill battle against Alabama, but an embarrassing loss is in no way a foregone conclusion.