Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, December 28, 2014
Opportunity. It?s all any team wants. The chance to show it can do the job. The chance to show it can be the best.
That?s what awaits Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl when it takes on No. 1 Alabama in a national semifinal playoff game.
OSU isn?t supposed to win this game. Ask most any expert. They?ll tell you. Alabama is the reigning 10,000-pound gorilla of college football, the resident ?it? program that is king of the sport.
Ohio State? Yes, the Buckeyes have been dominant in Urban Meyer?s three seasons, going 36-3 overall and 24-0 in the Big Ten. But OSU is supposed to be fortunate to be here after winning the Big Ten title game with a third-string quarterback after both Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett suffered season-ending injuries.
When it comes to recent national domination, though, the numbers say it all: Nick Saban has led his program to three national titles, winning it all in 2009, 2011 and 2012 as the bellwether for a league that had won seven national titles in a row before that streak was broken last year when Auburn lost a nail-biter to Florida State.
The last time the SEC didn?t have a team play for it all? It was 2005, when Texas took on USC.
Ohio State is the last Big Ten team to win a national crown, knocking off Miami (Fla.) in 2002 for a conference that is desperate for some national respect. (Ironically, OSU was a big underdog in that game, vs. the Hurricanes, too.) Beat Bama, and a heavy dose of it would be delivered. But Ohio State knows what it?s up against taking on a roster as talented as any in the nation.
"Just the quality of player, I think they have won their recruiting battles every year for whatever it has been and you see all that development of players that they have," Meyer said. "I think the biggest thing is depth of the rotation of guys, especially on the defensive line."
Ohio State is in relatively good shape for this playoff showdown.
"Everybody is here who should be here," Meyer said. "Injuries? Dontre (Wilson) is 50-50 for the game, he is still in a boot but we are still? at least a few plays that we are hoping to get out of him for the game. Armani (Reeves) is ready to go."
Is Meyer worried about OSU never being in this position before while Bama?s roster is stacked with players who have been in a spot like this?
?I am concerned about everything,? Meyer said. ?I am more concerned about the great players they have and I don?t want to de-value the fact that they have been in a championship atmosphere before. Our guys have been there twice now, Big Ten championship game, the last two years, but there is probably a little bit to what you said (about the mental state of the players having been in this position before). There is nothing we can do about that.?
The Buckeyes will need all hands on deck to knock off the Crimson Tide, which figures to have some special defensive schemes to come after Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones. But if Jones plays like he did in the Big Ten championship game, it may not matter what Bama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart draws up.
?We have an idea of what they?re gonna do,? said Smart. ?We gotta do what we?ve been doing all year. It?s a little bit challenging because we didn?t have a lot of film on them, but I think we?ll be able to handle it.
?I really don?t think I can compare them specifically (with anyone from the SEC). They do things that Mississippi State did, that Texas A&M did, that a lot of other teams did. But, to compare them to one individual team out there, I can?t do that.?
The Buckeyes must establish a running game behind Ezekiel Elliott, who got stronger as the year went along. After not eclipsing the 100-yard rushing mark in the first three games, Elliott has turned the trick seven times in the last 10 games. In fact, the sophomore is coming off his best game of 2014, running 20 times for 220 yards and two touchdowns in the Big Ten title game to push his season total to 1,402 yards. If Elliott is rolling, that will make life easier for Jones vs. a Bama defense that is No. 11 in the nation overall (312.4 ypg) and No. 4 in scoring defense (16.6 ppg).
?(Cardale Jones is) a mystery,? said Tide DE Nick Perry. ?Really don?t know exactly what all he can do or what kind of offense they?re gonna have come game time, so we?re just preparing for everything and anything. You know they?re gonna come out there with something different on game day and we just have to be able to adjust and go out there and execute.?
The pressure is on Alabama. Ohio State? It can play loose and free. And that can be an advantageous position to be in.
|About Tom Dienhart||BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.|