ALLSTATE SUGAR BOWL STORYLINES
1. When No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Ohio State square off in a College Football Playoff semifinal in New Orleans, the matchup will feature two legendary programs with identical 12-1 records this season but not much else in common. For starters, the Crimson Tide have a trusted senior quarterback in Blake Sims, who has passed for 26 touchdowns against seven interceptions and is coming off a sparkling 23-of-27 performance for 262 yards with two touchdowns and no picks against Missouri in the SEC title game. The Buckeyes, on the other hand, will once again turn to Cardale Jones after the red-shirt sophomore made his first career start against Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, throwing for 257 yards and three TDs.
2. Ohio State enters this matchup on a roll, having won five of its last six games by double figures, including a resounding 59-0 rout of the Badgers their last time out. The Buckeyes were the most surprising of the four selections for the CFP, but none of that matters now as they - as well as the Crimson Tide - sit one win away from playing for the national championship against either Oregon or Florida State. Alabama is looking to advance to the national title game for the fourth time in six seasons while Ohio State hasn't played for the championship since losing to LSU at the end of the 2007 season.
3. Both teams are obviously quite talented on both sides of the ball, but the Crimson Tide rely more on their defense while the Buckeyes have counted on their offense throughout the season. Ohio State ranks fourth nationally with a scoring average of 45.2 points and has recorded at least 31 points in 12 of their 13 games, posting an average of 47.7 points in its last three contests. Alabama is fourth in the country in points allowed (16.6) and has given up more than 23 points only once all year.
TV: 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: Alabama -9.5
ABOUT OHIO STATE (12-1, 8-0 Big Ten): The Buckeyes rank 11th nationally in rushing offense, mostly thanks to Ezekiel Elliott (1,402 yards) and quarterback J.T. Barrett (938), who fractured his ankle in Ohio State's regular-season finale, forcing Jones into the lineup. Sophomore defensive end Joey Bosa (13.5 sacks) is the lone first-team All-American for Ohio State, which had a pair of third-team All-Americans in Barrett and defensive tackle Michael Bennett, who set Big Ten championship game records with four tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. "We made history just by making the top four," senior cornerback Doran Grant told the media earlier this month. "This game is going to be exciting. It's going to be hard-fought with two great coaches going head-to-head and two great teams going head-to-head."
ABOUT ALABAMA (12-1, 7-1 SEC): T.J. Yeldon (932 yards) and Derrick Henry (895 yards) each have 10 rushing scores for the Crimson Tide, while Sims has six rushing scores of his own. However, the clear offensive star for Alabama is junior wideout Amari Cooper (115 catches, 1,656 yards, 14 touchdowns), who finished third in the Heisman Trophy balloting and owns virtually every school receiving record, including career catches (219), yards (3,392) and touchdowns (29). “This is really kind of a new season for us, a new opportunity," said Alabama coach Nick Saban, whose team held Missouri to 41 rushing yards on 23 carries last week. "What does everybody want the legacy of this team to be?"
PREDICTION: Alabama 36, Ohio State 19