I previewed the first semifinal where I picked Oregon to end the winning run of the FSU Seminoles. Now I preview the second semifinal, the Sugar Bowl clash between #1 Alabama Crimson Tide and #4 Ohio State Buckeyes (8.30pm EST, Thurs, Jan 1).
It was another outstanding season for the Alabama Crimson Tide as they were the most dominant team in college football once again. Playing in the toughest college football conference, Alabama bested five top-25 teams en route to a 12-1 record and yet another, 25th to be exact, SEC championship.
Their appearance in the college football playoff and Sugar Bowl will be the university’s 61st bowl game and 32nd of the traditional “big four” (Rose, Sugar, Cotton, Orange) bowl games, both an NCAA record. This will be their 16th Sugar Bowl appearance where their record is just 8-7.
Awaiting Alabama are the Ohio State Buckeyes, this year’s Big Ten champions. Also just a one-loss team, Ohio State’s road to the semifinals was not nearly as difficult as their conference, once great, has fallen upon hard times as of late. Nevertheless, OSU defeated a tough and top-ten ranked Michigan State as well as blew out 13th ranked Wisconsin 59-0. They earned their spot in the playoff.
This is just the fifth time that Ohio State will be playing in the Sugar Bowl, traditionally reserved for the SEC and Big 12 champions, where their record is 2-2. No stranger to bowls either, this will be the 44th bowl appearance for the Buckeyes and 26th in one of the big four bowls.
Matchup to Watch: Saban vs Meyer
Both Ohio State and Alabama are littered with talented players who will likely be making their NFL debuts sometime later in 2015, but the matchup to watch on Wednesday is the one between the two coaches.
Nick Saban has been the head coach of Alabama for the last eight years and in that time, has brought a culture of winning and immense success. He has continued the tradition of excellence that players and fans had become accustomed to and did so while building himself a reputation as one of the best college coaches of a generation. He holds an 86-16 record including 50-11 in conference play and has led the Crimson Tide to three national championships. Saban himself has four titles, adding one at LSU in 2003.
Urban Meyer became a household name along the same time Tim Tebow did. Together, the two led the Florida Gators to two national championships, doing so by defeating Saban in the tough SEC. After briefly retiring from coaching, Meyer took the job at Ohio State when it was offered to him. In the two years he has been the head coach, the team has lost just one game, including an undefeated regular season last year in which the team was bowl ineligible because of sanctions.
Despite having won six national championships in the BCS era (1998-2013), Saban and Meyer have only met on the gridiron three times with Saban holding a 2-1 head-to-head record. Two out of those three however, the winner has gone on to win the national championship.
Both coaches have built respected careers and are two of the best in the game. Both have well coached teams and it is no surprise that both have managed to find success at not just one school in their tenures as head coaches. Both are the reason why their teams have reached the proverbial college football promised land and both are going to be instrumental in deciding who moves on to the championship and who goes home.
Amari Cooper, Cardale Jones and the Keys to the Game
- Can Ohio State stop Amari Cooper? In a season where the quarterbacks were outstanding, Alabama’s top receiver Amari Cooper (pictured) still managed to garner Heisman consideration. The standout junior had one of the best years he could have possibly had, recording three games of over 200 receiving yards and eight more over 80 yards. Cooper added 14 touchdowns to make 2014 his best career season. Only twice this year was Cooper targeted three or fewer times and one of these was a throwaway game toward the end of the year. Stopping Cooper is paramount to any chance Ohio State has to win but can they do it? Doran Grant has drawn the short straw for OSU and will be tasked with covering him. On the plus side, Grant has had some good outings this year against tough and physical Big Ten opponents. However, it is also worth noting that Cooper has put up monster numbers against cornerbacks who were much better. If OSU can limit his production, they stand a chance to win.
- Can Cardale Jones avoid regression? It’s been a tough and in a lot of ways unfair year for the Buckeyes, who have lost not one but two Heisman-caliber quarterbacks. Starting for just the second time in his career will be Cardale Jones. Due to Alabama’s strong run defense, Ohio State will be leaning on the inexperienced Jones and will be looking for him to have a day similar to the one he had when the team blew out Wisconsin. This is not an easy task for any QB going against Alabama but for one who really has yet to get his feet wet, it could seem impossible. But OSU managed to replace one starting star for another and Jones, to his credit, played well in his only start. Perhaps, the lack of experience could help him here because it makes game planning against him tougher for Alabama. Nevertheless, it is going to be a tough matchup. Jones certainly has his work cut out.
Alabama Crimson Tide vs Ohio State Buckeyes Betting Picks
Alabama enters this game as nine point favorites, which really isn’t too much of a stretch considering how they decimated tons of excellent teams this year. Ohio State is a good team as well but for Bama, they are no more difficult a game than some of the tough SEC contests this year.