The basics

WHAT: Sugar Bowl/College Football Playoff semifinal — No. 4 seed Ohio State (12-1) vs. No. 1 seed Alabama (12-1)

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday

WHERE: Mercedes-Benz Superdome

TV: ESPN

Line: Alabama by 9.

Series Record: Alabama leads 3-0.

What’s at stake

Under the new College Football Playoff system, the Sugar Bowl doubles this season as a national semifinal, with the winner advancing to the national championship game in Arlington, Texas, against the winner of the other semifinal, the Rose Bowl matchup between No. 2 seed Oregon and No. 3 seed Florida State.

Key matchup

Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones, who is making only his second start in place of injured J.T. Barrett, faces an Alabama secondary that has looked vulnerable at times. Jones passed for 257 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions in Ohio State’s 59-0 victory over Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. The Crimson Tide gave up 456 yards passing just two games ago to Auburn in the Iron Bowl, but won the game.

Players to watch

Ohio State: Defensive end Joey Bosa has 20 tackles for losses, including 131/2 sacks. His honors this season include All-American, Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and a finalist for the Lombardi, Hendricks and Bednarik awards.

Alabama: Wide receiver Amari Cooper was a Heisman Trophy finalist this season. His 115 catches for a nation-leading 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns set Alabama single-season records in each category.

Facts & Figures

Ohio State, which won the Big Ten Conference for the 35th time, enters the game on an 11-game winning streak. ... Alabama, which lost its only game to Ole Miss on Oct. 4, has won eight straight and is Southeastern Conference champion for the 24th time. ... Ezekiel Elliott has led the Buckeyes’ running game with 1,402 yards and 12 touchdowns. ... Alabama junior running back T.J. Yeldon has 3,275 yards rushing in his career. ... The Buckeyes are 36-3 since Urban Meyer took over as head coach in 2012. ... Under new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, the Crimson Tide offense has set a school record with 6,376 yards of total offense, or an average of 490.5 yards through 13 games.