MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (TNS) — College football’s finest quarterbacks take the field in South Florida on Saturday night for the Orange Bowl, a College Football Playoff semifinal between No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Oklahoma.
Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray leads the Sooners, and they will be seeking an upset over the Crimson Tide and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, the runner-up for the most prestigious award in college football. The 8 p.m. EST kickoff at Hard Rock Stadium follows the other CFP semifinal, the Cotton Bowl between No. 2 Clemson and No. 3 Notre Dame at 4 p.m.
The numbers speak for themselves: Murray, a 5-foot-10 junior and two-sport star who was selected ninth in the last Major League Baseball draft, has completed 70.9 percent of his passes for 4,053 yards, 40 touchdowns and seven interceptions, adding 892 yards and 11 more scores on the ground.
Tagovailoa is a left-hander who announced himself to the college football world when he led a comeback in relief of Jalen Hurts in last year’s national championship victory over Georgia. He followed that up with a sophomore campaign in which he completed 67.7 percent of passes for 3,353 yards, 37 touchdowns and four interceptions.
“I think it’s going to be exciting. He’s a competitor, I’m a competitor, and to be able to go up against the best, that’s just what you want to do,” Tagovailoa said this week. “He’s exciting to watch. He’s very explosive. With what he does in that offense, he’s done a tremendous job. I have a lot of respect for him.”
Murray feels the hype surrounding the quarterback matchup is deserved, since they lead college football’s top two scoring offenses.
“I think it’s a great deal,” he said. “We – I don’t want to speak on myself – but he’s obviously good at what he does. … It’s definitely going to be a fun challenge, fun battle for us. I just can’t wait to go out there.”
It’s the first time No. 1 and No. 2 in Heisman voting will face off in a postseason bowl since 2005, when Heisman winner Reggie Bush (since vacated) met Vince Young in that epic Rose Bowl between Southern Cal and Texas for the BCS title. Young and the Longhorns won in a stunning upset. The previous year, USC quarterback Matt Leinart, who also was third in 2005, won it and beat Nos. 2 and 3, Oklahoma’s Adrian Peterson and Jason White, for the championship in the Orange Bowl following the 2004 season.
Since, we’ve come close, but not Nos. 1 vs. 2.
Tagovailoa has been working to return from an ankle injury that caused him to exit the SEC Championship Game against Georgia early. Coincidentally, it was Hurts who relieved Tagovailoa for that comeback win over the Bulldogs. Tagovailoa is probable to start and said earlier this week he feels “80 to 85 percent.”
Murray had a much-less significant concern earlier this week. He missed his Wednesday morning media availability session with an illness, but has since returned to practice.
Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley understands how important it may be for one quarterback to outduel the other, but feels the talk may be overblown.
“That’s just how it is. Everybody’s going to always talk about the quarterbacks,” Riley said. “They’re going to have a big effect on it, but there’s a lot of other great matchups. There’s two great football teams going at it. Quarterbacks are part of it, but there’s a lot of other great players on both sides and a lot of guys that are going to have a hand in deciding the outcome.”
Riley, in his second year at the helm, is looking for his first College Football Playoff title, while Alabama coach Nick Saban is looking to cap this dominant season with a sixth national championship with the Tide since leaving the Miami Dolphins.
Oklahoma leads the nation in scoring with 49.5 points per game. Alabama is second at 47.9. The Crimson Tide also rank fourth in scoring defense (14.8) while the Sooners are 96th at 32.4.
The two quarterbacks have top weapons in South Florida-produced wide receivers: sophomore and Biletnikoff Award winner Jerry Jeudy, a Deerfield Beach alum, for Alabama and junior Chaminade-Madonna grad Marquise “Hollywood” Brown for Oklahoma.
In the trenches, Alabama tackle Quinnen Williams leads a defensive front that will go against OU’s offensive line led by offensive tackle Cody Ford. Tide offensive tackle Jonah Williams is also projected to be a high draft pick.
Murray and the Sooners’ top-ranked offense will look to get it going against an Alabama secondary that includes safety Deionte Thompson and American Heritage grad Patrick Surtain II, who is a starting cornerback as a freshman.
There are many players who can decide the outcome of Saturday night’s semifinal at the Orange Bowl, but the conversation begins with the two quarterbacks.