Four teams that can beat Alabama: The case for Ohio State
Given Alabama's dominance the past four years, taking the Crimson Tide against the field to win the national title seems like a safe bet. But that doesn't mean Alabama is invincible. SI.com's Stewart Mandel and Andy Staples envisioned four scenarios in which the Crimson Tide might get derailed on their quest for a third consecutive BCS championship. Here's a hypothetical outcome of an Alabama-Ohio State matchup in the national title game on Jan. 6.
PASADENA, Calif. -- The night left Urban Meyer with a distinct sense of déjà vu. Ohio State ended the SEC's seven-year stranglehold on the BCS with a stunning upset of Alabama in the national championship game, and it did it with much the same formula that Meyer's 2006 Florida team used to start the streak back when it beat Meyer's current school on the same stage.
Buckeyes defensive ends Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence -- first-year starters whose inconsistent early-season play led to a stunning upset loss at Cal from which few thought they'd recover -- suffocated Heisman winner AJ McCarron, sacking him five times and forcing a pair of interceptions (one less than he'd thrown all season) and a fumble. The Tide's vaunted defense didn't fare as well against Heisman runner-up Braxton Miller, but short fields and a few big plays were all Ohio State needed to complete its 28-17 victory.
"Our speed was just too much for them," Meyer said with a smirk after hoisting his third crystal football, one short of adversary Nick Saban. "We're gonna take this thing back to Columbus and celebrate for a whole heck of a lot longer than 48 hours."
Saban has long been the master of out-preparing opponents when given extra time, but his defense seemed unready to handle Ohio State's various bowl wrinkles. Miller, who had greatly reduced his rushing load for most of his junior season, lined up in the shotgun on the Buckeyes' opening drive and executed a string of read-option keepers. Keeping Alabama on its toes, Ohio State also operated at a much faster tempo than during the season. "We watched a lot of tape of Alabama's 2012 Texas A&M game," said Miller. "And the coaches basically said, 'Go do that.'"
Miller marched the Buckeyes down the field to take an early 7-0 lead. Alabama seemed poised to even the score with a 70-yard drive of its own, led by several bursts from running back T.J. Yeldon, but stalled when McCarron threw his first interception of the day while trying to connect with All-America receiver Amari Cooper. Thorpe Award-winning cornerback Bradley Roby, who blanketed Cooper all night, stepped in front of the pass, picked it off and returned it to nearly midfield. Two plays later, Ohio State lined up in a diamond formation with H-back Jordan Hall and freshman speedster Dontre Wilson in the backfield. Both players subsequently shifted or motioned wide, which seemed to confuse Alabama's defense. With its normally stout linebackers and safeties scrambling, Miller tossed a shovel pass to receiver Philly Brown, who blazed untouched to the end zone.
The Tide settled down after falling into a 14-0 hole, riding its strong rushing game and going up 17-14 midway through the third quarter. But after Ohio State reclaimed the lead early in the fourth, McCarron dropped back to attempt a play-action bomb to Cooper, much like he did during the 2012 SEC Championship Game. The Buckeyes didn't bite, Washington swooped in with a crushing sack and forced fumble and linebacker Curtis Grant recovered and ran it back for a touchdown.
As the clock wound down, the "S-E-C, S-E-C" chants of the past seven years were replaced by "OH-IO." Alabama fans besieged The Paul Finebaum Show the next day to demand an NCAA investigation into Miller's eligibility, Meyer's offense and the officiating.