12 years ago this week, Ohio State played the national championship game against a Miami team that everyone thought would win. The Hurricanes looked invincible, coming into the game on a 34 game winning streak. The Buckeyes were 13 point underdogs but managed to be competitive where they pulled it off in overtime.
When a team spends weeks hearing that they can’t win a game, I think that it can be helpful to the psyche of a team (especially a team who is unfamiliar being an underdog). Ohio State has as much talent as Alabama, they’ve won 12 straight games, have one of the best offenses in the country. And yet, people talk about this game as if it’s a foregone conclusion that the tide will roll.
Ohio State has a coach who’s a master motivator. When Urban Meyer coached against Ohio State in 2007, his team was an underdog in a game where most of the nation expected to see the Buckeyes win. Not only did Meyer’s Gators pull of the upset, but they destroyed Ohio State that night.
To be fair, sometimes a team is universally thought of as being an underdog, because they aren’t as good (such as Alabama and Notre Dame in 2013).
But as I watch the bowl games, I see the SEC struggling. The conference was down this year. The teams Alabama beat were down this year. And even against lesser competition, the Tide were often times underwhelming this season. Watching them throughout the season, I think it’s the weakest Alabama team in their run over the past six years. I think their defense challenges you to throw deep which is a strength of Ohio State’s offense. I think that the high powered Ohio State offense will be able to move the ball. Aside from Cardale Jones, the key player for this game is Ezekiel Elliott. He needs to run well and keep the game balanced. In rare losses over the last five years, a common theme has been that Alabama struggles against fast paced offense (disrupts their ability to adjust at the line). Not only does Ohio State run that style of offense, but I think that Ohio State will further exploit it tonight.
Alabama has play makers on offense, led by Heisman finalist Amari Cooper. In three weeks, it’s essential that Ohio State has prepared a plan that won’t allow Cooper to beat them. Facing the running game, Alabama is running at the best defensive line in the country. They’ll get yards and points, but Ohio State’s defense can hold its own.
I’m confident in Urban Meyer and the game plan that this team will have. If OSU plays their game, and doesn’t commit turnovers or stupid penalties, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t win this game tonight. As I said, OSU has just as much talent. And much less pressure. Alabama is the team who’s supposed to dominate. They’re the mighty SEC team who’s supposed to be invincible, who’s thought of as being the best team in the country.
Regardless of what happens, the future is bright. I’m so proud of this team. When they lost to Virginia Teach, the season looked bleak. But this team has battled and earned this spot in the playoffs.
I’m going to go out on a limb tonight and pick Ohio State to win 45-28.