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Alamo Bowl: No. 12 Oklahoma, with freshman QB, takes on hot No. 14 Arizona

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No. 12 Oklahoma will begin a new era at quarterback while No. 14 Arizona will be trying to match its longest winning streak in 25 years when the teams meet Thursday in the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio.

The Sooners (10-2) narrowly missed playing in a New Year’s Six bowl matchup, while the Wildcats (9-3) come in as one of the nation’s biggest surprises, having won six consecutive games.

“They play with incredible passion and energy,” Oklahoma coach Brent Venables said of Arizona. “They play with great confidence. They know what they’re doing. You’re going to have to earn everything that you get.”

Nationally, the storyline is Oklahoma true freshman quarterback Jackson Arnold, a consensus 2023 five-star recruit who will step in for Dillon Gabriel, who is transferring to Oregon for his final season.

Arnold, a dual threat who will be leading the Sooners from the Big 12 into the Southeastern Conference next season, has appeared in six games as a backup, completing 18 of 24 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns.

Arnold will have ample weapons, including wide receivers Drake Stoops (78 catches, 880 yards, 10 TDs), Nic Anderson (31, 725, nine) and Jalil Farooq (41, 637, two), among others, as well as running back Gawin Sawchuk (610 yards, 5.8 per carry).

One question will be the offensive line. Left guard Cayden Green ransferred to Missouri, while center Andrew Raym and right tackle Tyler Guyton declared for the NFL draft.

“We’re going to practice what we saw on the film,” Arizona defensive coordinator Johnny Nansen said. “I don’t think they’re going to install a brand-new offense in three weeks. They still have great players.”

On defense, the Sooners lost safety Key Lawrence (transferring to Ole Miss) but return star junior linebacker Danny Stutsman (99 tackles, 16 for loss).

Arizona, playing its final game as a member of the Pac-12, is mostly intact, losing only senior left tackle Jordan Morgan (preparing for NFL draft) and has a young team that could very well be the preseason Big 12 favorite in 2024.

That starts with quarterback Noah Fifita. Taking over in the fourth quarter of the fourth game of the season, the redshirt freshman is eighth nationally in passing efficiency, completing 217 of 295 passes for 2,515 yards with 23 touchdowns and five interceptions.

His former Servite High School teammate in Anaheim, Calif., sophomore receiver Tetairoa McMillan, has caught 80 passes for 1,242 yards and 10 touchdowns. At 6-foot-5, he’s a matchup problem with the look of a future first-rounder.

Each team has big-time offense — Oklahoma averages 502.4 yards per game (fifth in FBS); Arizona is at 453.4 (17th) — but the Wildcats’ defense has made big strides this season. Arizona has improved to 37th nationally in total defense (340.9 yards per game) after ranking 124th last season (467.7).

Undersized but active linebacker Jacob Manu (108 tackles, 9.5 for loss) is one to watch.

After coach Jedd Fisch took over in 2021, Arizona’s losing streak reached 20 games during that season. Now, just over two years later, the Wildcats are trying to win seven games in a row for the first time since 1998 and post double-digit victories in a season for just the fourth time.

Oklahoma is making its 25th consecutive bowl appearance. This is Arizona’s first bowl game since 2017, a 38-35 loss to Purdue in the Foster Farms Bowl in Santa Clara, Calif.

“We want to make sure that our players understand it is a privilege to play in a bowl game,” Fisch said. “It is a celebration of a job well done.”

–Field Level Media

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