With Chance to Measure Itself, Ohio State Embracing Clash With No. 1 Alabama

By Patrick Maks on December 9, 2014 at 3:15 pm
Ohio State's embracing a Sugar Bowl clash with Alabama, who sits atop the college football world.
Courtesy of: Matt Velazquez

It's Alabama’s world and the rest of college football is just living in it.

In the last five years, the Crimson Tide have won three national championships and been in the final mix for two more.

So it’s no wonder why Ohio State has embraced its Sugar Bowl bout against them. As the old adage goes, if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.

“I knew at some point, if you're going to reach for the top, that you have to go through the top,”  head coach Urban Meyer said Sunday.

“And the last several years, Alabama has certainly been at the top of college football.”

After all, Meyer should know. In 2008, he bested the Tide in the SEC Championship Game enroute to winning his second national title in Gainesville. A year later, Alabama more or less Gators as the sport’s alpha program.

“We have to be on point to be this team. I know exactly what I’m going to see when I flip on the film. I know who they recruit, i know the way they coach, they don’t have much transition in the coaching staff,” Meyer said.

“I know exactly what we’re gonna see. We have to be on point.”

Because in a sport where teams inevitably go through rebuilding/retooling phases and ebbs and flows, Alabama has been immune to the natural cycles that dictate the sporting universe. Nick Saban’s crew has burrowed itself in the upper echelon.

“Powerhouse team,” senior linebacker Curtis Grant said. “Powerhouse team … You just have to bow up.”

While Ohio State and Alabama are college football blue bloods in respect to winning, tradition, resources and exceptionally-passionate fan bases, the Tide have grown accustomed to the sport’s biggest stage.

Meanwhile, the Buckeyes — for as successful as they’ve been under Meyer’s direction — have yet to play a game of the magnitude against a team that’s machine-like in how it operates.

“I think we’re a building program,” Meyer said. “I think they’re an established program.”

Remember, it’s only been three years since Meyer took over Ohio State and revamped a broken program and mended a broken culture.

“I still think we're in the building stages. Obviously a couple of years ago we took over a team that lost seven games and kind of built it up,” he said.

Even Meyer was willing to admit that perhaps the Buckeyes are ahead of schedule after losing star quarterback Braxton Miller 12 days before the season opener and a bevy of players from last year’s 12-2 campaign.

“I wasn't sure this year, I thought it might be next year that we would reach this,” Meyer said. “Especially when we lost our quarterback.”

Instead, behind redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett and a cast of unlikely heroes on a decidedly young team, Ohio State rallied past that and an ugly loss to Virginia Tech in Week Two to the fourth and final spot in the playoff after winning its first Big Ten title last weekend.

Of course, awaiting them in the next chapter is Alabama, who might be a barometer for who the Buckeyes are and where they’re heading.

“It’s gonna be a dogfight. The team that prepares the best and plays the hardest will win the game,” Grant said. “Coach Saban got their program running just like Coach Meyer got this program running up here”

Except the Tide have national championships to show for it.

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