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Orange Bowl gets an Alabama-Oklahoma CFP matchup

Alabama players celebrate after a win over Georgia during an NCAA college football game for the Southeastern Conference championship Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, in Atlanta. (AJ Reynolds/Athens Banner-Herald via AP)

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Alabama was the easy pick. Oklahoma was the difficult choice.

They’re on equal footing now.

Top-seeded Alabama (13-0) will continue its quest for a second consecutive national championship in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 29, when the Crimson Tide will take on the fourth-seeded Sooners (12-1) — who got to the College Football Playoff semifinals on the strength of their Big 12 championship win over Texas.

“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. 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.

Tagovailoa will be scoped in an effort to accelerate the ankle’s healing process, and Saban said Alabama is thinking his recovery could take two weeks.

“We’re hopeful that by the time we get started in practice, he’ll be ready to go,” Saban said.

Oddsmakers don’t seemed worried, and listed Alabama as about a two-touchdown favorite.

“We’ve got a lot of respect for the team that we’re getting ready to play, no question about that,” Riley said. “But we’ve got a formula that we believe in and we’ve got a program that’s used to winning and players that are used to winning. We know it’s going to be a great challenge, but we’re going to go prepare like we do and our goal will be for us to be at our very best.”

Ohio State, Georgia and even UCF all felt deserving of a spot, but the selection committee obviously believed Oklahoma’s resume was the best off that long list of contenders for the fourth and final entry into the playoff.

“There was a lot of debate about Oklahoma, Georgia and Ohio State,” CFP committee chairman Rob Mullens said. “The debate was deep, detailed, and occasionally contentious. There was division.”

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.

“Oklahoma was ranked No. 4 because they’re a one-loss conference champion with a dynamic offense,” Mullens said.

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.

“I think he’s about as dynamic as any player I’ve seen all season long,” Saban said.

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.

Alabama-Oklahoma got slotted for the Orange Bowl instead of the Cotton Bowl in 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.

“I didn’t have a preference at all,” Saban said. “I knew that we would be playing a good team in a first-class venue, wherever we played.”

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