NEW ORLEANS – When Urban Meyer got back into coaching at Ohio State, he made it clear what kind of program he wanted to build.
Well, he’ll get a chance to see how that plan is going when the Buckeyes take on the Southeastern Conference powerhouse everyone wants to emulate.
Top-ranked Alabama (12-1) will meet No. 5 Ohio State (12-1) in the Sugar Bowl tonight, a semifinal game in college football’s new playoff system. The winner advances to the Jan. 12 national championship game against either Florida State or Oregon, which play in the other semifinal at the Rose Bowl.
The Crimson Tide are going for their fourth national championship in six seasons, a stunning run of dominance in what is supposed to be an era of increased parity.
“You can have that one-shot wonder, that one-year wonder, that one year where everything goes right,” Meyer marveled at the final Sugar Bowl news conference Wednesday. “But to have it year after year, that’s the model that people look for.”
No one does it better than Nick Saban and the Tide, who are 84-10 over the last seven seasons. Alabama captured national titles in 2009, 2011 and 2012 and came oh-so-close to winning it all two other years.
The Tide broke out a helmet with the number 15 – symbolizing the number of national titles the school claims to have won – for its photo ops leading up to the game.
“Our entire staff and all of our players have responded very well to the standard that we try to set for the way we want things to be done and how they need to be done so you can have success,” Saban said, methodically explaining the success of a program that seems to be on title auto-drive.Some of those 15 championships are highly suspect, most notably the 1973 team that lost to Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl.
But even when limiting the count to The Associated Press poll, Alabama still has more titles (nine) than any other school.
The formula hasn’t changed much over the years: Recruit the best players, put a system in place that makes it clear what is expected of them, and work harder than everyone else.
Here’s what to watch for when Alabama takes on Ohio State:
Jones’ second start: Cardale Jones turned in quite a performance in his first college start, throwing for three touchdowns and winning the MVP award in a 59-0 rout of Wisconsin at the Big Ten championship game. Jones, who took over after injuries to Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett, certainly seemed at ease this week in the Big Easy.
Stopping Cooper: Alabama’s junior receiver turned in one of the great seasons in college football history. The Heisman Trophy finalist has 115 catches for 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns, even though everyone knows he’s the primary passing target.
Coaching matchup: It doesn’t get much better than this. Meyer has brought his high-scoring spread offense to Ohio State and will surely be looking to hit some big plays, but that won’t be easy against a defensive mastermind such as Saban.
Injury report: Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon is hampered by an ankle injury. Saban said it won’t be known until game time if he’s healthy enough to play. If Yeldon can’t go, there’s shouldn’t be much drop-off with Derrick Henry (895 yards, 10 touchdowns) getting the bulk of the carries.
Buckeyes vs. SEC: Ohio State has never beaten an SEC team in a bowl, at least not officially. The Buckeyes are 0-10, having vacated a victory over Arkansas in the 2011 Sugar Bowl because of NCAA violations.
Paul Newberry, AP
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.