1 OHIO STATE OFFENSIVE LINE vs. ALABAMA DEFENSIVE LINE This would have been a big mismatch in September, but it’s not now, because the Buckeyes offensive line has improved greatly since the start of the season and was dominant in the Big Ten title game as EZEKIEL ELLIOTT ran for 220 yards. Left tackle TAYLOR DECKER, the only returning starter (right tackle) from last season, anchors the unit. They’ll be tested by a big, strong Tide defensive line that goes 10 deep. End JONATHAN ALLEN has been Bama’s most productive lineman.
2 OHIO STATE RECEIVERS vs. ALABAMA DEFENSIVE BACKS The Crimson Tide secondary has been susceptible to big plays in the passing game, and the Buckeyes have receivers capable of continuing that trend. DEVIN SMITH has been the most explosive receiver, catching 11 touchdown passes and averaging 26.6 yards per catch, and MICHAEL THOMAS has been the most frequent target (43 catches). OSU had touchdown passes of 39, 44 and 42 yards against Wisconsin. Bama will count on CYRUS JONES, who has a team-leading nine pass breakups, to help contain the Buckeyes.
3 OHIO STATE OFFENSIVE STAFF vs. BAMA DEFENSIVE STAFF Ohio State offensive coordinator TOM HERMAN is working with his third starting quarterback since August, and CARDALE JONES is making just his second start. Jones played very well in the Big Ten title game, and the Buckeyes presumably have used the extended preparation time to expand the playbook for him. Bama has basically one game’s worth of film on him, but Tide coach NICK SABAN and defensive coordinator KIRBY SMART have proved capable of unnerving quarterbacks who have more experience than Jones.
X FACTOR It’s clearly Ohio State quarterback CARDALE JONES. If he makes big plays like he did against Wisconsin, the Buckeyes have a good chance of winning. If he looks more like a guy making his second career start against the No. 1 team in the country, they won’t. If he gets hurt, next up is WR JALIN MARSHALL, a former high school QB. All OSU QBs are dual-threats. At 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, Jones is bigger than his predecessors and has a strong arm, though he also appears to be a capable runner.