The 2015 Sugar Bowl is a matchup between two of the most storied college football programs of all time. If that weren’t enough, this game is also one of two semifinals in the inaugural College Football Playoff. The Ohio State Buckeyes, the 2014 Big Ten champions, will be taking on the champion of the SEC, the Alabama Crimson Tide, for one of the coveted spots in the CFP National Championship Game a week later in Arlington, Texas.
These powerhouse programs are coached by two of the most successful coaches of the modern era. Nick Saban, who has led the Crimson Tide to three national titles since taking the job in 2007, coaches Alabama, while Ohio State’s head coach is Urban Meyer, who has compiled a 36-3 overall record in his three seasons in Columbus. The two coaches have squared off three times, dating back to Meyer’s days as the head coach of the Florida Gators, with Saban holding a 2-1 advantage in the series.
Outside of the CFP National Championship Game, this matchup is arguably the most anticipated game of the 2014 college football bowl season. Anytime you get two of the premier programs in college football history on the same field, you have an intriguing matchup. When you throw in the fact that this is a CFP semifinal game, you have the makings of a potentially classic Sugar Bowl.
Here’s a look at three things to watch for when Alabama and Ohio State meet in the Sugar Bowl and CFP semifinal game on New Year’s Day.
1. Can the Ohio State defense slow down Amari Cooper?
Cooper, the 2014 Biletnikoff Award winner, has been arguably the most explosive player in all of college football this season. For Ohio State to have a chance at pulling off the upset in this game, the Buckeyes will need to do an excellent job of slowing down Alabama’s top offensive threat. If they allow Cooper to get on a roll early, it will make stopping the rest of the Alabama offense even more difficult than it already will be. While it is nearly impossible to completely shut down a player like Cooper, the Buckeyes will need to make sure they severely limit his big plays if they want to keep this game close.
2. Can Cardale Jones repeat his Big Ten Championship Game performance?
Jones went from being an unknown to leading Ohio State to an impressive 59-0 win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. However, there is no arguing the fact that Wisconsin simply does not have the talent or athleticism of the Alabama defense, so Jones may be in for a rude awakening in this game.
On the other hand, Jones will have had a month to prepare under the guidance of one of the top quarterback coaches and offensive minds in the game in Meyer. The performance of Jones will go a long way in deciding the outcome of this matchup. If he can play at a level near that of his Big Ten Championship Game performance, the Buckeyes will be right in this game. If he gets overwhelmed by the speedy and physical Crimson Tide defense, this game could easily be a blowout.
3. Is T.J. Yeldon 100% healthy?
Yeldon is without a doubt one of the best running backs in college football. The problem is, he has been battling hamstring and ankle injuries for the last month or so. Yeldon has said that the injuries have not been bothering him during the Crimson Tide’s bowl preparations, but anytime a running back is battling lower body injuries, there is cause for concern. If Yeldon is back to full strength, his presence may make the Alabama offense too powerful and balanced for Ohio State to overcome.
On a side note, Yeldon is only 68 rushing yards away from becoming the first player in Alabama history to rush for 1,000 or more yards in each of his first three seasons.
Final prediction: Alabama 34, Ohio State 24
Cooper, Yeldon, and quarterback Blake Sims will give Alabama too much firepower for the Ohio State defense to contain. The Crimson Tide defense will harass Jones and exploit his inexperience en route to a Sugar Bowl victory and berth in the CFP National Championship Game on January 12.