In perhaps this year’s most intriguing bowl matchup outside of the New Year’s Six, the upstart #14 Arizona Wildcats will take on the #12 Oklahoma Sooners in the Alamo Bowl this Thursday night (12/28/23). Get Arizona vs. Oklahoma odds, picks and predictions below as our best bet is Arizona -2.5.
Arizona vs. Oklahoma Prediction
Has any team exceeded expectations this year more than the Arizona Wildcats? They were projected to finish eighth in the Pac-12 as per the official media poll, but finished in third, and ranked 14th in the entire country.
Their win total at most sportsbooks was set at five, right in line with their 5-7 result from last year- they’ve already won nine games, more than they’ve won in the past three seasons combined, and their most since 2014. Arizona picked up huge wins over Oregon State, UCLA and Utah in a season that will not soon be forgotten in and around Tucson.
Oklahoma also had a positive season as well. After going 6-7 in year one of the Brent Venables era, they’re already 10-2. The Sooners started the year ranked 20th in the AP poll, and rose as high as #6 before some losses brought them back down to earth. They’ve settled at #12, with a chance to finish inside the top ten with a win over the Wildcats.
As the Arizona team as a whole broke out, so did quarterback Noah Fifita. All seemed lost for the Wildcats when high-potential quarterback Jayden de Laura went down with an injury, but Fifita took the reins and never let them go. He won the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week award a record five times over the final eight weeks of the season, breaking the record set by now-Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels when he was at Arizona State.
Fifita played in 11 games, but three of those were very short relief outings. Most of his resume was accumulated over those last eight games, in which he threw for nearly 2,500 yards, with 23 touchdowns and just five interceptions. Despite reported interest from some of the country’s biggest programs, it seems that he’s content with his current situation and will not be hitting the transfer portal as Arizona heads for the Big 12 next year.
Conversely, as Oklahoma leaves the very same conference and heads to the SEC, their quarterback will be leaving them. Dillon Gabriel, who already transferred from UCF, is heading to newly-minted Big Ten squad Oregon, leaving the Sooners with a question mark at quarterback next year.
The Alamo Bowl will be Jackson Arnold’s first opportunity to prove that he’s the answer. The true freshman was a five-star recruit, with a rating of 99/100 from 247 sports. He was the 10th-highest graded high schooler in the country, and the top recruit in Texas- no small feat. Arnold has thrown just 24 passes in relief of Gabriel late in games this year, but the early returns are solid. How he will erform as a starter in a high pressure scenario, however, remains to be seen.
Arizona hasn’t won a bowl since the 2015 New Mexico Bowl, and they haven’t even been to one since 2017 — the last year of Rich Rodriguez’s tenure. They’re favored to change the former, due in large part to the Gabriel news, and they should get the job done.
This game absolutely means more to Arizona as a program, evidenced by the fact that other than star tackle Jordan Morgan, who is presumably preparing for the NFL, pretty much every major contributor has opted in. In year three under Jedd Fisch, this team has experienced a real breakthrough and should be able to cap it off with one more win over a big program.
Arizona vs. Oklahoma Prediction: Arizona -2.5
Arizona vs. Oklahoma Best Odds
Arizona is favored by the key number of -2.5, or -160 on the moneyline. Oklahoma is set at +130 to pull off the modest upset, while both sides of the relatively high total of 62.5 are both set at -110.
Arizona vs. Oklahoma Key Matchups
Slowing down Noah Fifita and the Arizona air game will have to be Oklahoma’s top defensive priority, while with Dillon Gabriel out, the Wildcats will look to slow the Sooners’ rushing attack and put the pressure on Jackson Arnold.
Arizona Air Offense vs. Oklahoma Pass Defense
Fifita isn’t the only reason Arizona’s air offense is ranked 14th by EPA per play; the offensive line ranks second in PFF’s pass blocking grade, and wideout Tetairoa McMillan racked up 1,242 yards and 10 touchdowns. Jacob Cowing wasn’t as much of a deep threat, but he led the team with both his totals of 83 catches and 11 scores.
Oklahoma’s pass defense took a big step up compared to some previous years, ranking 45th in EPA per play. The star was safety Billy Bowman, an NFL prospect who picked off a team-high six passes, while top corner Gentry Williams secured three of his own. Bowman and star linebacker Danny Stutsman both announced that they’ll be back next year, a huge boost for this unit.
Oklahoma Ground Offense vs. Arizona Run Defense
Oklahoma had a pretty egalitarian ground game this year; Gavin Sawchuk led the team with just 610 rushing yards, but three more runners for Oklahoma cracked 300 yards on the season. Gabriel was one of those three, but Arnold has already shown an ability to contribute on the ground, while second back Tawee Walker will also look to chip in.
The Sooners’ ground game ranked 34th in the country by EPA per play, but Arizona’s run defense is even better at 19th. Interestingly enough, only linebacker Jacob Manu has played over 300 snaps in run defense for the Wildcats, as it’s been very much a team effort spearheaded by coordinator Johnny Nansen, a Broyles Award nominee.