2015 Allstate Sugar Bowl: Ohio State vs. Alabama

    Ohio State (12-1) vs. Alabama (12-1) Jan. 1, 8:30, ESPN Here’s The Deal: There’s an argument that TCU probably belonged here, and Baylor certainly did its

    December 30, 2014

    Ohio State (12-1) vs. Alabama (12-1) Jan. 1, 8:30, ESPN 

    Here’s The Deal: There’s an argument that TCU probably belonged here, and Baylor certainly did its share of complaining, but it’s Ohio State vs. Alabama. In terms of big, massive, powerful, colossal, ginormous college football franchises, this is about as big, massive, powerful, colossal and ginormous as it gets. The Rose Bowl might have the last two Heisman winners, but this is Ohio State vs. Alabama. No matter what happens, and no matter how this turns out, this is going to be the type of game that gets brought up over and over again for years. 

    And it’s a fitting showdown to close out a tremendous New Year’s Day and to serve as the marquee matchup in the inaugural College Football Playoff day of semifinals. 

    Somewhat shockingly, this is just the fourth time these two have played, with Alabama taking the 1995 Citrus Bowl, the 1986 opener in the Kickoff Classic, and the 1978 Sugar Bowl. So, yes, for Ohio State fans who have wanted desperately for their program to get SEC-level respect, it’s time to finally come up with a win over king of the best conference in college football. 

    The Buckeyes were on the doorstep of playing for the 2013 national title before forgetting about Carlos Hyde in the Big Ten championship loss to Michigan State, and this year it had to fight upstream all year after the stunning early loss to Virginia Tech. But the talent is there, the athleticism is in place, and the offense is humming at an unstoppable level, destroying Wisconsin for the Big Ten title and scoring 31 points or more in every game but the loss to the Hokies. 

    But is this a case of Ohio State being great against a mediocre conference, or is this a team peaking at just the right time? 

    Alabama found its stride over the last few weeks of the season hanging 55 on Auburn and 42 on Missouri, but this has been a bit of an inconsistent year for a Nick Saban championship-level squad. There were problems getting by LSU, and there were struggles finishing off Mississippi State and surviving Arkansas, but because the offense has been so balanced and explosive, and because of the brand name, this is everyone’s No. 1 team. It’s going to be in for a fight, though. 

    Alabama is playing a team its own size, almost literally. It’s playing a team with all of the same advantages, the same coaching chops, and the same talent level in several ways, and this isn’t likely going to be the coronation that many believe it’ll be. 

    Neither coaching staff will be fooled by anything, and both teams are going to come into the game ultra-prepared and looking to pack bags for Dallas. This is the clash of the titans, and it’s everything fans have wanted and were hoping for when the idea of a playoff was first floated out there. Expect nothing less than something special – the two teams are that good and the Sugar has been that good. 

    The last four Sugar Bowls have been outstanding after a run of bad matchups, with Ohio State starting the recent run with a 31-26 thriller in the 2011 game and Alabama losing last year to Oklahoma. 

    Ohio State is on a two-game bowl losing streak – losing the 2014 Orange to Clemson and the 2012 Gator to Florida – but it was able to break through its SEC hex with that win over Arkansas. Counting two BCS championships – including the 2007 clunker to Mr. Meyer’s Florida – the Buckeyes have lost five of their last seven bowls after going on a high-level four-game winning streak under Jim Tressel. 

    Alabama was shocked last season, but before that it won four straight bowls with a run of three national titles in four years under Nick Saban. Easily one of the best bowl programs in college football over the last few decades, Alabama is 23-10 since losing to Notre Dame in the 1976 Sugar. 

    Why Ohio State Might Win: It’s not always right to throw the idea of emotion in a game based on who blocks and tackles better, but Ohio State was terrific in the two Chip On Shoulder games this year. The Buckeyes wanted to make a statement against Michigan State, and they came out razor sharp in the dominant road win. They wanted to make amends for the loss in the 2013 Big Ten championship, and they made an all-timer of a statement against Wisconsin. They’re the underdogs, and while they’re very talented and very good, they really can use the No One Believes In Us rallying cry. 

    – Alabama might be a big of a statistical fraud. Auburn’s defense can’t stop anyone, and Missouri isn’t anything high-end special, so the two late wins might not have been as big a deal as they appeared. Arkansas, LSU and Mississippi State all had their chances to pull off wins thanks to tough defensive play and great performances by the respective defensive fronts. Ohio State’s defensive line hasn’t been as strong as expected, but it’s still loaded with NFL players. 

    – Ohio State, don’t play it timid. Alabama will be fully prepared for Cardale Jones, in his second game since J.T. Barrett went down, but the Buckeyes have to take their shots. “12 Gauge” isn’t wrong – he might really have the best arm in college football. Ohio State has the speedy receivers, and it has the deep ball ability. If Nick Marshall can throw for 456 yards and three touchdowns, the Buckeyes can take the top off the secondary, too. 

    – Alabama’s defense might turn it loose, but it’s not a top-shelf pass rushing D. It’s aggressive and productive, but it’s not the type of defense that’s going to come up with six sacks – unless it does what it did against Texas A&M. As long as the Buckeyes don’t ask Jones to sit in the pocket for six seconds, they should be able to let the downfield passing game to work. 

    – The pass rush has to rock. The Crimson Tide O line hasn’t been quite up to past snuff, but it’s still been really, really amazing. Alabama countered the great Missouri pass rush with quick, short-range passes, and Ohio State saw it on film and should be ready with the speed and tackling ability in the back seven to keep these plays to a minimum. Joey Bosa and the Buckeye pass rush have been steady all year, and they have to pressure Blake Sims from the start. 

    Why Alabama Might Win: The Big Ten just might not be that great. Yeah, Ohio State looked outstanding after the loss to Virginia Tech, but that’s partially because it was way, way more talented than everyone else on the schedule – with the exception of Michigan State. Getting through the Big Ten East isn’t like winning the SEC West. As good as OSU might have looked at times, it was a bit rocky against Penn State, Indiana and Minnesota, too. 

    – It’s still Cardale Jones. He’s not your typical third-string quarterback – he’s a better pro prospect than both Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett – but he’s still the third-string quarterback without a year’s worth of experience. Alabama’s defense isn’t based on rushing the passer, but with time to throw a few wrinkles into the mix, there’s a chance the front seven will bring the house and take its chances. The Crimson Tide have had problems with the Manziels, Marshalls and Knights of the world, not the pocket passers. 

    – The offensive balance has been too much for most teams to deal with. Ohio State’s offense can play any style and in any way, but Alabama’s can do all of the same things, only a little bit better. Much of the Buckeye rushing production came from the scrambling of Barrett, but now the ground game has to work against the No. 1 run defense in America that can fully focus on the running backs. Ohio State’s D can’t prepare for any one thing from the Alabama offense. 

    – Ohio State’s secondary hasn’t seen anything remotely close to Amari Cooper. Who, on the Buckeye schedule, has a real, live passing game? Rutgers? Cincinnati does, but c’mon. Michigan State does, but OSU hasn’t had to see anything like the deep play ability of the best wide receiver in college football. As long as Blake Sims gets a little bit of time, the big plays will be there because … 

    – Contrary to popular opinion, Ohio State’s defense can be run on. Wisconsin got down so fast and so far that it had to abandon ship and start throwing – however, to be fair, the Buckeyes stopped the Badgers cold. Minnesota and David Cobb ran well, and Indiana and Tevin Coleman tore off yards in massive chunks. It might be a slow, steady drip at times when Alabama runs the ball, but it could eventually lead to the dam breaking. 

    What’s Going To Happen: It’s Ohio State vs. an SEC team. You know how this is going to end. The Buckeyes absolutely have the talent and the ability to pull off the upset, but Alabama will be too balanced offensively and too good against the run to blow this. The Crimson Tide will make Cardale Jones win the game, and he won’t be able to do it. However, it’ll be a good, fun game with Ohio State getting plenty of big chances to pull it off.

    Prediction: Alabama 34 … Ohio State 27 
    Line: Alabama -9 o/u: 58.5 

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