The No. 5 Ohio State Buckeyes enter their College Football Playoff semifinal matchup with the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide as nine-point underdogs, but to hear Alabama head coach Nick Saban tell it, the Buckeyes will be anything but pushovers.
As the build up to Thursday night’s Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome reaches its peak, Saban gave Ohio State a huge amount of praise during his radio show.
"These guys are going to look like the best SEC team that you saw all season long, if you're an Alabama fan," Saban said Tuesday night. "They've got really good skill players outside and great speed. ... People view the Big Ten as not having great skill guys, not having great speed -- this is not true with Ohio State. They have all those things."
Comparing both sides’ offensive stats, Saban makes an excellent point. The Buckeyes ran 937 plays and averaged 7.0 yards per while putting up 45.2 points per game, the fifth best in the country. Alabama totaled 948 plays at a clip of 6.7 yards per play en route to SEC championship and the top CFP ranking.
Addressing both the style of his offense and the speed of his team, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer also spoke of how where he sees the college game heading.
"I think when I was a head coach at Bowling Green, I believed speed wins," Meyer said to Cleveland.com. "Obviously the other intangibles of toughness and character and perseverance and the time-tested qualities of a good football team, good football player, will never change. However, the game is getting faster."
But if Ohio State can keep up that same kind of production against Alabama’s tested and third-ranked defense is the question that keeps popping up.
In their most recent victory the Buckeyes proved both resilient and capable of thwarting a top ranked defense. They blasted Wisconsin, which was second in Big Ten in defense, for 59 points and 558 total offensive yards in the conference title game, all with sophomore quarterback Cardale Jones making his first career start in place of the injured J.T. Barrett.
The Buckeyes also have leading rusher Ezekiel Elliott, another sophomore who racked up 1,402 yards and 12 touchdowns, along with top receivers Devin Smith and Michael Thomas to stretch the Tide downfield and keep them honest against the run.
But Ohio State and head coach Urban Meyer, who’s 1-2 in three career matchups against Saban back when they both called the SEC their stomping grounds, are probably wary of getting into a shootout with the equally loaded Alabama offense.
Senior quarterback Blake Sims exceeded all expectations by throwing for 3,250 yards and 26 touchdowns, and in his last two games Sims has completed 43 of his 54 attempts for 574 yards and six touchdowns.
Sims’s top target has been Heisman candidate and receiver Amari Cooper, who led all wide outs with 115 receptions for 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns this season.
Even if they manage to contain Sims and Cooper, the Buckeyes must also contend with the Tide rushing tandem of T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry. Yeldon’s battled injuries all season but still leads the squad with 932 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns, and Henry is right behind him with another 10 scores and 5.6 yards per carry.
However, Ohio State’s surrendered 139.8 rushing yards per game, fifth best in the conference this season, and just contained Wisconsin and the nation’s leading rusher Melvin Gordon to 76 yards.
Start Time: 8:30 P.M. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Online Stream: A live stream is available at Watch ESPN here
Betting Odds: Alabama -9
Over/Under: 58.5 points
Prediction: Alabama over Ohio State, 34-27