(1) Alabama Crimson Tide vs. (4) Ohio State Buckeyes
Thursday – January 1 – 7:30 pm
Mercedes-Benz Superdome – New Orleans
How did they get here?
The Crimson Tide did just enough to survive the SEC West gauntlet and reclaim both the division title that Auburn stole from them last year after the 109 yard “Kick Six” and the conference championship, taking down Missouri 42-13 in Atlanta. Ohio State took the back door entrance by blasting Wisconsin 59-0 in the Big 10 championship-a win that would enable them to leapfrog then #3 TCU and keep the Big 12 along with Baylor shutout of the first ever College Football Playoff.
Some are calling this season Nick Saban’s finest work ever as head coach. After losing veteran quarterback A.J. McCarron to the pros, the Tide were forced to look to Blake Sims to lead the team into battle. The senior career backup looked up to the task through the first four weeks of the season until losing to Ole Miss 23-17 in Oxford, a game that would mark the biggest upset victory in Rebels’ school history. The following week saw Bama barely skirt by Arkansas 14-13, a result that had Saban chastising the media afterwards for being overly critical of his football team. Just when it may have looked like this squad would not be able to duplicate the dominance of those in the past, Texas A&M showed up to Tuscaloosa and the Crimson Tide unleashed the gates of hell upon the Aggies winning 59-0. Two weeks later they pulled off a miracle in overtime versus LSU and then followed that up by beating #1 Mississippi State. They passed their final test before the SEC championship game by exacting revenge over Auburn 55-44 in the Iron Bowl, rallying from behind thanks to the outstanding play of the nation’s top wide receiver Amari Cooper.
The same can be argued for head coach Urban Meyer in regards to the job he did this year in putting the Buckeyes in a position to potentially win another National Championship and his third overall (2 with Florida). Pre-season Heisman candidate and all-star quarterback Braxton Miller was lost for the entire season prior to even taking a snap as he suffered a shoulder injury in a late August practice session. Most would immediately write off the chances of Ohio St. doing much in 2014, especially after they went down in week two at home to a very average Virginia Tech team 35-21. But up stepped redshirt freshman T.J. Barrett, who would lead them to a ten game winning streak before he then went down with a fractured ankle. His stellar performances allowed the Buckeyes to creep back into the playoff discussion but they would have to rely on 3rd string quarterback Cardell Jones to not only beat Wisconsin but beat them big in their final game. And he delivered. It’s quite a coincidence that both Alabama and Ohio State each had wins of 59-0 over very reputable programs-a fact that shows both certainly belong in this contest.
Prediction: The oddsmakers aren’t giving Ohio St. much of a chance in this one at +9 and neither am I. The difference all boils down to Alabama getting it done week in and week out in the toughest division in all of college football while the Buckeyes by no fault of their own, have faced very mediocre competition in the Big Ten all year long. Look for the Tide to roll on to the finals 31-20 in this year’s Allstate Sugar Bowl.