Oklahoma football: Sooners look to close out 2023 on high note with 'upset' Alamo Bowl win over Arizona


The 2023 edition of Oklahoma football has been an underdog just once this season, and that game, against Red River rival and College Football Playoff-bound Texas ended in a Sooner victory.

That's where these same Sooners (10-2) find themselves as they get ready to face 14th-ranked Arizona in the Valero Alamo Bowl on Thursday. No. 11 Oklahoma, which will be playing its final game as a member of the Big 12, will take on Arizona, which ironically becomes a new member of the Big 12 next season, in an 8 p.m. kickoff at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. The game will be televised by ESPN with Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers and Cole Cubelic doing the announcing.

Arizona (9-3) was the third best team in the Pac-12 Conference behind Washington and Oregon and ended the regular season with six consecutive wins and as one of the hottest teams in the country. The Wildcats are making their first bowl appearance since 2017 and, like the Sooners just their second appearance in the Alamo Bowl.

Despite the better record and a higher national ranking, Arizona is a 3.0-point favorite in the game, largely because of all the opt-outs on the Sooners' side, including starting quarterback Dillon Gabriel, who is transferring to Oregon. Arizona, meanwhile, comes into the game with the availability of virtually a full roster.

True freshman Jackson Arnold will draw the start at quarterback for the Sooners against Arizona, his first career start for the Crimson and Cream. The former five-star prospect and 2022 Gatorade Player of the Year out of Denton (Texas) High School played in six games for OU this season, completing 18 of 24 passes for 202 yards and a couple of touchdowns. He also ran the ball for 78 yards and a touchdown.

Oklahoma and Arizona have met just two other times on the gridiron, splitting the two games. The No. 4 Sooners won 28-10 in 1988 in Norman, and the following season in Tucson, Arizona returned the favor, defeating 6th-ranked OU by the baseball score if 6-3.

The Sooners, who are averaging a nation third-best 43.2 points this season, are the only FBS team to score at least 59 points in four games this season. Meanwhile, Arizona has given up more than 31 points in just one game all season.

A win over Arizona in the Alamo Bowl would give Oklahoma 11 wins for the season. The Sooners lead all of college football with 27 seasons of at least 11 victories. The Wildcats are arguably the most complete team Oklahoma has played this season. Arizona comes into the Alamo Bowl with a top-20 offense and a top-40 defense

What to know about Arizona

The Wildcats six-game winning streak to end the regular season was their first streak of that length since 1998. Their nine wins are the most since the 2014 season.

Arizona is arguably the most complete team OU has faced this season. The Cats come into the Alamo Bowl with a top-20 offense nationally and a top 40 defense. They are led on offense by Noah Fifita, a highly talented redshirt-freshman quarterback, and he has plenty of playmakers at his disposal. Fafita ranked fourth among FBS quarterback with a 73.6 completion percentage. His 23 touchdown passes are tied for the first among FBS freshmen this season and is second most all-time by an Arizona freshman.

The OU defensive secondary is going to have its hands full covering one of the country's best receiving corps. Three Wildcat receivers have over 500 yards receiving this season. Sophomore Tetairoa McMillian ranks eighth in the country with 80 catches for 1,242 yards along with 10 touchdowns. And Jacob Cowing is right there with him with 81 receptions for 696 yards and 11 receiving touchdowns.

And it's not just about throwing the football for Arizona. Jonah Coleman has 850 rushing yards and averages nearly 7.0 yards per carry.

On defense, the Arizona player to keep an eye on is linebacker Jacob Manu. The first-team All-Pac-12 selection leads the conference with 108 tackles.

What to know about Oklahoma

The main Alamo Bowl storyline for the Sooners is the first OU career start for Jackson Arnold at quarterback. Compounding the new starter at QB, this will also be the first game for new Oklahoma co-offensive coordinators Seth Littrell and Joe Jon Finley. Arnold will have to play behind an offensive line that will be down two starters (center Andrew Raym, who opted out to prepare for the NFL Draft, and right tackle Cayden Green, who entered the transfer portal).

Sixth-year wide receiver Drake Stoops, tied for the Big 12 lead with 10 touchdown receptions, will be playing his last collegiate game. He and redshirt-freshman Nic Anderson have 19 touchdown catches between them. Jalil Farooq, Jayden Gibson and Gavin Freeman will also play key roles on the receiving end for the Sooner offense in the Alamo Bowl.

Gavin Sawchuk has locked down the lead running back role for the Sooners. The talented redshirt-freshman has rushed for over 100 yards in each of his last four games.

If Oklahoma is going to win this game, they are probably going to have to do it on the defensive end. The Sooner offensive line is going to have to protect Jackson Arnold and keep him upright, and on defense, Danny Stutsman and Company need to disrupt Arizona quarterback Noah Fifita and make him uncomfortable and avoid giving up big plays, particularly in the passing game. Arizona ranks 12th in the nation in passing yards per game and is going up against a Sooner defense that ranks 99th among FBS teams in defending the pass.

If Arizona is able to run the ball effectively against the OU defensive front, it's going to be a long night for the Sooners.

Oklahoma is tied for fifth nationally with a plus-11 turnover margin and ranks second among FBS teams with 19 interceptions this season. This could be a key element if Oklahoma is to come out on top in the Alamo Bowl. A number to keep track of in this game is five.: That's how many interceptions Arizona QB Noah Fifita has thrown this season.


The Sooners will be without quite a few players in this game. That is not an excuse, it's simply reality. The spread, which currently favors Arizona (-2.5), has gone down by a point over the past week. To show you how uncertain all this is, ESPN's analytics have OU as a 9.5-point favorite with a 75 percent chance to win.

Next to Texas, this will be the best team Oklahoma has faced all season. Can the Sooners win the game. Sure they can, but they are going to have to play a near errorless game to do so under the circumstances, which means winning the line of scrimmage (like they did against Texas) and also the turnover battle.

OU will play well and keep the game close, but I believe a Sooner victory is going to be a tall order. Arizona 34, Oklahoma 28