The reformatted college football postseason turned out to be pretty sweet for the Sugar Bowl.
Surging Ohio State burst into the No. 4 spot of the College Football Playoff rankings Sunday, putting the Buckeyes (12-1) in the Sugar Bowl opposite No. 1 Alabama in a national semifinal on New Year’s Day.
Ohio State, which has won 11 straight, made a strong case it should be included with a 59-0 waxing of Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game Saturday night in Indianapolis behind its third-string quarterback. The inclusion of the Buckeyes pushed previously third-ranked TCU to sixth — well outside the playoff picture.
No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Florida State will play in the Rose Bowl the same day, with the winners squaring off Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas.
Coach Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide, also 12-1 after beating Missouri 42-13 in the SEC Championship Game on Saturday in Atlanta, is also on a streak, posting eight consecutive victories.
Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan said he was ecstatic at the thought of pairing such storied programs.
“Two traditional national powers in our game is a great honor,’’ he said. “We have little doubt that this game will produce another memorable chapter in the great history of the Sugar Bowl.’’
CFP selection committee chairman Jeff Long said Ohio State’s conference title-game victory played a role in the final picks. After losing quarterbacks Braxton Miller before the season and J.T. Barrett before the title game, Cardale Jones was pressed into service and performed at a high level.
“We’ve seen an Ohio State team impressively overcome two quarterback injuries — that spoke volumes about the strength of the (OSU) team,” Long said. “Football is a team game, and the coaches (on the committee) reminded us of that.”
The Sugar Bowl will put on opposite sidelines two of the preeminent college coaches of the past decade — and old rivals. Saban has coached four national championship teams, one at LSU and three at Alabama, and Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer coached two at Florida. The coaches have matched wits three times before, with each winning an SEC title at the expense of the other. Saban’s Tide also beat Meyer’s Gators in a 2010 regular-season game.
Meyer said he thought his rebuilding Buckeyes program would be ready to blossom a season from now, but he’s not surprised at this year’s success.
“Ohio State is an elite program. Alabama is as well,” he said. “If you reach for the top, Alabama is certainly there.’’
He cited the task at hand, noting the Tide’s traditionally stout defense, but added there’s a new wrinkle in the equation: the athleticism of the Bama offense, taking note of quarterback Blake Sims and receiver Amari Cooper.
Saban, who has a 2-2 record in the Sugar Bowl after last year’s surprising 45-31 loss to Oklahoma, said his team has a challenge to meet in Ohio State. “Our players are just excited about having the opportunity to be one of the teams selected,” he said. “We knew whichever team we played in the playoff would be an outstanding team. I know what kind of coach Urban Meyer is, what kind of program he has, the great tradition of Ohio State.”
Bama will be making its record 15th appearance in the Sugar Bowl, where five Crimson Tide national titles were showcased. Alabama also had a No. 1 team proclaimed in the BCS Championship Game in the Superdome in 2012, when it defeated LSU 21-0. The Tide’s eight victories in the Sugar Bowl is a record, but Alabama has lost three of its past four appearances.
Ohio State will be playing in its fifth Sugar Bowl. It lost to Alabama 35-6 in 1978 and to Florida State 31-14 in 1998; it beat Texas A&M 24-14 a year later.
The Buckeyes also defeated Arkansas 31-26 in 2011, but that victory was later vacated.