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Sugar Bowl Preview, Alabama vs. Ohio State: Everything You Need to Know

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Two of the biggest programs and best coaches square off for a shot in the inaugural College Football Playoff championship game. (Also see our Rose Bowl preview here.)

ALLSTATE SUGAR BOWL

No. 1 Alabama (12-1) vs. No. 4 Ohio State (12-1)

Thursday, Jan 1. 8:30 PM (ESPN)

How They Got Here

After an early October loss at Ole Miss, the Crimson Tide turned on the jets, averaging 40.4 points per game in its last seven contests en route to Alabama’s second SEC championship in three years. Ohio State overcame the preseason loss of star quarterback Braxton Miller and, aside from a Week 2 slip-up against Virginia Tech, dominated the rest of their schedule on their way to the Big Ten championship.

When Alabama Has the Ball

Battling Alabama’s offense is really a case of picking your poison. Do you work to slow down the Crimson Tide’s potent running game, featuring Derrick Henry and TJ Yeldon (1,827 yards and 20 touchdowns combined)? Or do you try to stop Heisman finalist receiver Amari Cooper (1,656 yards and 14 scores)? There really is no good answer as Alabama has been equally efficient running and throwing this season. Even going against some pretty good SEC defenses, the Crimson Tide ranks 15th nationally in total offense and 16th in scoring.

But the Buckeye defense is pretty solid as well (15th nationally) and is coming off a 59-0 shutout of Melvin Gordon and Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. The Buckeyes rank 11th nationally in takeways and they will likely need to force a couple of Alabama turnovers to pull off the upset.

When Ohio State Has the Ball

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All eyes will be on Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones, the third stringer who was pushed into action after season ending injuries to Braxton Miller and JT Barrett. Although he played well in the Big Ten championship game (257 yards and three touchdowns), he wasn’t really asked to do much as the Buckeyes jumped out to a big lead. This time, he’ll likely face a much tougher task against an Alabama defense that ranks third nationally in scoring defense.

The Buckeyes rank 11th nationally in rushing and will lean heavily on Ezekiel Elliott (1,402 rushing yards this year) to take some pressure off of their young quarterback. But Alabama leads the nation in rush defense and, if Ohio State can’t move the ball on the ground, Cardale Jones could be in for a long night against the Crimson Tide.

Intangibles

Nick Saban and Urban Meyer are the two biggest names in coaching, with six national titles between them. When Meyer was at Florida, the two faced off three times (once in the regular season and twice in the SEC title game) with Saban winning twice.

This could be a low-scoring, defensive battle so Alabama’s punter, J.K. Scott, could be a secret weapon. The freshman is second in the nation, averaging 47.0 yards per punt.

Cardale Jones played a nearly flawless game against Wisconsin. He’ll need to have a similar effort here for Ohio State to advance to the national title game.

NEXT: ROSE BOWL PREVIEW

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