The first day of the first College Football Playoff wraps up in New Orleans as the SEC champion and #1 Alabama Crimson Tide take on the Big Ten champion and #4 Ohio State Buckeyes in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, New Year’s night.
#1 Alabama Crimson Tide (12-1, 8-1 SEC): #4 Ohio State Buckeyes (12-1, 9-0 Big Ten):
vs. West Virginia W33-23 vs. Navy W34-17
Florida Atlantic W41-0 Virginia Tech L21-35
Southern Miss W52-12 Kent State W66-0
Florida W42-21 Cincinnati W50-28
at Ole Miss L17-23 at Maryland W52-24
at Arkansas W14-13 Rutgers W56-17
Texas A&M W59-0 at Penn State W31-24 (2OT)
at Tennessee W34-20 Illinois W55-14
at LSU W20-13 (OT) at Michigan State W49-37
Mississippi State W25-20 at Minnesota W31-24
Western Carolina W48-14 Indiana W42-27
Auburn W55-44 Michigan W42-28
vs. Missouri W42-13 vs. Wisconsin W59-0
Pass Offense: 22nd of 128 Pass Offense: 50th of 128
Rush Offense: 34th Rush Offense: 11th
Total Offense: 15th Total Offense: 8th
Pass Defense: 58th Pass Defense: 17th
Rush Defense: 2nd Rush Defense: 34th
Total Defense: 11th Total Defense: 15th
The road was not easy for Alabama, navigating the toughest conference in the land. After a shocking collapse against Ole Miss put them down to #7, the following week was a struggle against a hungry Arkansas team. The Tide gutted it out, but the criticism was such that Coach Nick Saban went on an extended tirade at his weekly press conference. This was a pivotal moment in the season. Refocused, Alabama rolled Texas A&M and had a 27-0 lead early at Tennessee before focus seemed lost again. An overtime triumph in Death Valley and a reaffirmation against then-#1 Mississippi State restored order, and a dominating second half against Auburn made the SEC title game a foregone conclusion.
Offensive Coordinator Lane Kiffin continues to get far more than his fair share of attention, and QB Blake Sims has largely remained in the shadows, exactly Saban’s master plan. Sims tossed 26 touchdown passes as the fifth-year senior’s wait was finally fulfilled. What started as a controversy ended as a coronation. Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon spearheaded the ground attack, and the typical strong defense has the Tide here—all of this and some kid at wide receiver named Amari Cooper, the best player on the field in this game.
Ohio State has had to overcome devastating injuries at quarterback, first to Braxton Miller in preseason, then to J.T. Barrett against Michigan. Cardale Jones, the third quarterback, was spectacular as OSU ripped Wisconsin to win the Big Ten. The pivotal moments for the Buckeyes came with the fortunate win at Penn State where they blew a 17-0 lead but came through in overtime, and the subsequent vanquishing of Michigan State two weeks later which gave them control of the Big Ten East.
Ezekiel Elliott is their breakaway rusher, averaging 6.5 yards a carry; Devin Smith their best deep threat at receiver with a 26.6 average per reception with 11 of his 30 going for touchdowns.
This is a matchup of the two finest coaches in college football today in Nick Saban and Urban Meyer.
It is the fourth time they have battled, with the other three when Meyer was at Florida. The job Meyer has done getting his team to persevere through adversity has been remarkable, but they have faced nothing quite like Alabama. With a month to prepare, there will be no surprises from Cardale Jones like there were for Wisconsin. The Tide rolls on. My pick is Alabama 34, Ohio State 17.