NCAA Football News
More than three weeks of Sugar Bowl preparation has been followed by days of media hordes, so it's safe to say Alabama and Ohio State are ready to put the talking to rest on the field.
Obviously, every minute between championship weekend and New Year's Day is coveted for the coaches and the players as they prepare for the national semifinal. But with only a couple of days before the game, all parties involved—especially the fans—are champing at the bit to see what will unfold.
Alas, time travel hasn't yet been figured out, so we'll have to wait until 8:30 p.m. ET on Jan. 1 to see what's in store. But until then, take a look below as we break down the odds and give some predictions for the Sugar Bowl.
When: Thursday, January 1, 2015
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans
Start Time (ET): 8:30 p.m.
Note: Odds courtesy of Odds Shark, last updated December 29
Sugar Bowl Predictions
Ohio State QB Cardale Jones: 27-40, 275 YDS, 3 Total TD
Cardale Jones has all of the chips stacked against him—he's a sophomore with little game experience going up against Alabama in a game with championship implications. But take a closer look, and it's actually set up nicely for him.
Although the Crimson Tide are their usual selves when it comes to stopping the run, they have been average at best in stopping aerial attacks. In its last three games of the season, Alabama allowed an average of well over 300 yards per game—and those games were against teams not known for passing it around.
Jones doesn't have much experience, but his offense's season numbers speak for themselves. Devin Smith, Jalin Marshall and Michael Thomas have been dominant in the passing game, combining for 25 touchdowns caught.
What makes matters tougher for Alabama and Nick Saban in preparing for Jones is the fact that there isn't much to watch, as ESPN's Adam Rittenberg noted:
What Jones lacks in experience he more than makes up for with a prototypical arm and size. At 6'5" and 250 pounds, he's athletic enough to evade pressure while taking one step and chucking it 50 yards downfield.
Ohio State will struggle to keep Alabama's defense off guard, but when the Buckeyes do succeed, it will be Jones' doing.
Alabama WR Amari Cooper: 9 Catches, 140 YDS, TD
When defending Amari Cooper, the question isn't how to stop him but rather how to minimize his inevitable impact.
The runaway Biletnikoff Award winner and Heisman Trophy finalist has been circled on opposing scouting reports all season and has still posted one of the best years in SEC receiving history. Cooper grabbed 115 passes in 13 games, going for 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns.
As his own secondary knows better than anyone, it's impossible to stop him, as Anniston Star's Marquavius Burnett noted:
Few times, though, has Cooper been limited to his impact in the SEC Championship Game—but he still made a big impact. He had only 83 yards receiving but did it on 12 catches, as he constantly moved the chains on scoring drives.
Ohio State will do whatever it can to minimize Cooper's impact in this one, but the Buckeyes can only do so much when Alabama can turn around and run it down their throats. He'll find a way to slip open for those drive-sustaining catches and also get free for one home run play.
Alabama Wins, 31-24
Even with Jones playing the game of his life and Ohio State matching every Alabama blow, the Tide simply have too much on offense to be stopped for four quarters.
Cooper can single-handedly change a game, whether it's by catching passes himself or by drawing attention to open up fellow receivers. Such attention on the outside will leave Ohio State at a disadvantage in the trenches, where T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry will trade off with big gainers.
Ohio State's defense should step up to the task, and it has potent pass-rushers in Joey Bosa and Joshua Perry, but it doesn't have the talent across the board to stifle Alabama's offense. Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide defense has Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman worried, as Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel reported:
The Buckeyes offense is at its best with Ezekiel Elliott running wild, which won't be happening against Alabama's top-ranked run defense. The onus will be on Jones to have a heroic performance, but he'll need to score virtually every time he touches the ball in the second half to keep pace.
Turning around to beat Oregon 11 days later could be a different story, but Saban and the Tide will be more than ready for this one.
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