(1) Alabama Crimson Tide (-10.5, 58.5 o/u) vs. (4) Ohio State Buckeyes
After finishing the regular season as the number one team in the country, the Alabama Crimson Tide (12-1, 7-1 SEC) have a favorable matchup against the Ohio State Buckeyes (12-1, 8-0 Big Ten) in the Sugar Bowl. The Tide and Buckeyes will square off at 8:30 p.m. Eastern on Saturday, January 1, at the Superdome in New Orleans for a spot in the National Championship.
The matchup is favorable, on paper, because the Buckeyes are down to their third-string quarterback, Cardale Jones, who has started just one game in his career.
That said, Ohio State has shown tremendous resilience this year. After starting QB Braxton Miller was injured during the preseason, the Buckeyes won 11 of 12 with backup J.T. Barrett under center. Then Barrett, who set the Ohio State record for total touchdowns (45), was lost for the season just before the Big Ten title game. Yet, the Buckeyes went on to dominate Wisconsin (59-0) in Jones’ first game as a starter, making the oddsmakers look foolish for setting Wisconsin as a four-point favorite.
With Jones confirmed as the starter for the remainder of the year, there was some question whether the CFP Selection Committee would keep the Buckeyes out of the top-four no matter what – recognizing that there would probably be a drop off in their play with a third-stringer at the helm. However, the decisive nature of the Buckeyes’ win didn’t leave the committee much choice. Head coach Urban Meyer certainly thinks his team deserves a shot at Bama.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt we’re one of the top four teams in America,” said Meyer after smashing the Badgers.
Jones was excellent in the win over Wisconsin, throwing for 257 yards and three touchdowns on 70% passing. However, the Buckeyes protected Jones by running the ball 38 times (compared to just 17 pass plays). The ground-oriented attack worked against Wisconsin as Ohio State racked up over 300 yards rushing. But if the Buckeyes think they are going to slice up the Alabama front seven like they did to Wisconsin, they are in for a surprise.
Alabama has the second-best rush defense in the entire country, surrendering just 88.7 yards per game. And they posted that number despite facing some of the best ground games in the nation this year, including Auburn, Mississippi State, Arkansas, and LSU (all of whom are in the top 30 in rushing yards per game).
Alabama punched its ticket to college football’s final four with an impressive win over the Missouri Tigers in the SEC Championship Game (42-13). The Tide were double-digit favorites, which many thought was high, but the 29-point margin of victory smashed the 13.5-point spread.
Alabama’s senior QB Blake Sims, who has struggled with his accuracy at times this season, had arguably his best game of the year against Missouri, throwing for 262 yards and two touchdowns on 23 of 27 passing. His 85% completion percentage was the highest ever in an SEC title game.
“You love to see a guy who’s gone through what he’s gone through, who’s worked so hard and always persevered, then have success,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “It’s a credit to his character and work ethic.”
Alabama has won all their three meetings against Ohio State, but they haven’t met since 1995. Coaches Saban and Meyer have faced each other three times, and Saban holds a slim 2-1 edge.
Though Cardale Jones was very good in the Big Ten title game, he’s never seen the likes of Bama’s defense. While the sophomore could surprise, the more likely scenario is that the Tide punch their ticket to the National Championship for the fourth time in six years.
(Photo credit: By Adam Glanzman (Flickr: asg.fbc.vsOSU.11.30.131225 copy) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.)