NEW ORLEANS — Over the last five years, Alabama has been at the top of the college football world three times. It has been the program many have looked at as the best in the country.
"Any time I've used the top of the mountain, I've used them," Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said recently. "I've respectfully used them because they played very well. Every year they're in a championship hunt and I've used them. So there is a lot of respect for the University of Alabama and their athletes."
The Crimson Tide won national championships under their head coach Nick Saban in 2009, 2011 and 2012. A win over the fourth-ranked Buckeyes on New Year's Day would give them an opportunity to win yet another one.
But how does this Alabama team stack up against the previous ones that were crowned national champions under Saban? Well, let's take a look.
The 2009 version of the Crimson Tide is one Meyer remembers quite well. He coached against it as the head coach at Florida in the 2009 SEC championship game.
Alabama routed Meyer's Gators in that game, 32-13, before earning a 37-21 win over Texas to claim the national title and cap a perfect 14-0 season.
That year's Crimson Tide was probably Saban's most talented, featuring players like Julio Jones, Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, Rolando McClain, Javier Arenas, Dont'a Hightower and others.
Alabama averaged 32 points per game that year and over 400 yards of offense, while its defense ranked No. 2 in the nation in both total defense (244 yards per game) and scoring defense (just 11.7 points per game).
"That was one of the best teams I've ever coached against Alabama and they handled us pretty good," Meyer said recently of the 2009 team. "Ingram was a tailback and they dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides."
The seniors on Alabama which will play the Buckeyes in this year's Sugar Bowl were freshmen when the Crimson Tide won the national title in 2011.
After losing to LSU in the regular season, Alabama got a rematch to play for it all this year and dominated the Tigers for a 21-0 win behind one of the best defensive units in recent memory.
The Crimson Tide allowed just 8.2 points per game that year, recorded three shutouts and only allowed a team to score more than 14 points one time. Players like Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick and Courtney Upshaw highlighted that defense.
“This team is sort of similar to the 2011 team my freshman year," said Alabama wide receiver/return specialist Christion Jones, who played a minor role that year for the Crimson Tide. "You have a lot of legends here on this team that are just doing a lot of great things and have been doing a lot of great things. It’s sort of how it was in 2011 with a lot of great coaches around them."
A late-season loss to Texas A&M didn't deter Alabama from repeating as national champion in 2012 as the Crimson Tide rolled Notre Dame, 42-14, to win it all.
Behind a mammoth offensive line which featured four NFL Draft picks and a dominant running game of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon, Alabama pounded its opponents on the ground as it ran for over 3,000 yards on the season. Both Lacy and Yeldon were 1,000-yard running backs that year and quarterback A.J. McCarron threw 30 touchdown passes and just three interceptions.
“I feel like we’re equal, but every team is different," said Yeldon, who was a true freshman in 2012. "We have a different (offensive coordinator) that calls plays different so that’s how it is.”
The Alabama team which will play Ohio State on Thursday may not have the same number of sure-fire NFL Draft picks as previous versions had, but the Crimson Tide still have a wealth of talent.
Leading the way is superstar wide receiver Amari Cooper, who has broken every receiving record in school history throughout his three-year career. But Yeldon, safety Landon Collins and offensive lineman Arie Kouandjio could all be very high selections come time for the 2015 Draft.
Alabama's scoring defense this year is similar to previous seasons — it ranks third nationally at 16.6 points per game — while the Crimson Tide rank 16th in the country in scoring offense.
It certainly didn't feel like this year's Alabama team was as dominant throughout the season as previous national title teams, though. It lost early on to Ole Miss and followed that up with a one-point win over Arkansas. The Tide also had to earn an overtime win over LSU near the end of the regular-season.
But even though Bama might not seem as dominant as it has been in previous national title years, players who played on those teams see some similarities.
“Different in a lot of ways, but similar in some, too," Jones said. "We’re just really a team that communicates well together and has great vibes together. We have legendary coaches on this staff which makes the team respect this team more. Everybody knows their role and when you have a team that figures out their role sooner in the year, you have a great team.”