GLENDALE, Ariz. — Third-ranked Ohio State is still getting set to take on No. 2 Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl, the second of two College Football Playoff semifinals played Saturday.
But if the Buckeyes do beat the Tigers, they already know what will come next: No. 1 Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship.
Just before Ohio State and Clemson kicked off from University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., the Crimson Tide punched their ticket to Tampa with a 24-7 win against No. 4 Washington in the Peach Bowl, the first semifinal. With a 14-0 record to its credit, Alabama remains the nation’s clear-cut top team.
It’s been nearly two years since the Buckeyes last battled the Crimson Tide, a 42-35 Ohio State victory in the College Football Playoff semifinal Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day 2015. With the Buckeyes going on to win the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship and Alabama winning it last season, a potential matchup between the two teams would feature each of the last two national champions.
At this point, it’d be hard to call another Ohio State vs. Alabama showdown anything but a matchup between college football’s two premier programs. The Buckeyes have compiled a 61-5 record in five seasons under Urban Meyer heading into the Fiesta Bowl. The Crimson Tide, meanwhile, have won four of the last seven national titles.
The rivalry between Alabama head coach Nick Saban and Meyer dates back to the latter’s days at Florida. The two head-coaching titans have won a combined seven national titles since 2006.
Meyer and Saban have each compiled a 2-2 record against one another in their four career meetings.
If they do face the Crimson Tide, the Buckeyes will have their hands full. Alabama lays claim to the nation’s top-ranked defense in both scoring and yardage. Saban’s team has also benefited from 15 non-offensive touchdowns between its defense and special teams, including one against the Huskies on Saturday.
Quarterback Jalen Hurts paces the Crimson Tide offense, with the true freshman signal-caller having accounted for 3,540 yards of total offense and 34 touchdowns in his debut season. The Crimson Tide also feature a plethora of offensive weapons in RB Damien Harris, WR Calvin Ridley and TE O.J. Howard. Against Washington, RB Bo Scarbrough ran for 180 yards and 2 touchdowns on 19 carries.
But for as unstoppable as Alabama appears, ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said it’s far from guaranteed the Tide will repeat as national champions.
“I think people have built Alabama up to be this team nobody can compete with. And I just don’t agree with that,” Herbstreit said. “I think the winner of (the Fiesta Bowl) definitely matches up and definitely can compete with Alabama.”
In nine days, we’ll find out whether or not Herbstreit is right. And in a few hours, we’ll know whether or not the team to get that shot will be the Buckeyes.