One thing we learned time and time again in the 2012 season is never to underestimate Alabama.
Oh sure, the Crimson Tide didn't go undefeated; they didn't in 2011 either, and they still won the title that year too. But when it came down to the one big game, the BCS National Championship, with Nick Saban given well over a month to prepare for his opponent, the result was a 42-14 thrashing for the ages.
There was another potential national title contender in 2013, one that was unfortunately sunk before the season by sanctions, only to go undefeated through its season: Ohio State.
We don't need to go back over how Ohio State found itself sitting at home for the holidays—again, you can blame whomever you'd like for that—but the bottom line was no postseason for undefeated Ohio State.
But what if? What if Ohio State was postseason-eligible? Certainly the Buckeyes would have given Notre Dame a run for the national championship, as evidenced by Notre Dame giving Alabama about as much of a fight as Michigan did to begin the year.
Let's suppose two things, though: First, that Ohio State had done the right thing last year and enacted enough penalties on its 2011 team to make sure this year's squad was postseason eligible. Second, that Pitt had actually beaten Notre Dame when it had its opportunity to do so with that field goal in overtime. So now it's Ohio State, the only undefeated team left in America, facing Alabama, the best team in America.
So would it be close? Perhaps. Would Ohio State win the game? Well...we'll let Lloyd Christmas handle this one.
Look, Buckeyes. The Big Ten Blog wants the Big Ten to win a national championship as much as you all do. We'd even take Purdue winning it all (Purdue will never win it all).
But the magic of the undefeated season would be put to a swift, merciless end at the hands of Nick Saban and Alabama were the two teams to meet with the crystal football on the line. There's a chance Ohio State would win, of course—this is college football, and there's always a chance—but the path to victory looks nigh impossible. Here's why.
Like Notre Dame, one of Ohio State's biggest strengths on the year was its play on both sides of the ball. Notre Dame had NT Louis Nix III, DE Kadron Louis-Moore, and DE Prince Dembo on its defensive line; Ohio State boasted standouts like NT Johnathan Hankins, DE John Simon and DT Garrett Goebels.
Meanwhile, on offense, Notre Dame featured the likes of OT Zach Martin, OG Mike Golic Jr. and C Braxston Cave. Ohio State had OT Jack Mewhort, OG Andrew Norwell and C Corey Linsley. Pretty equal there.
And Alabama absolutely wrecked Notre Dame on both sides of the line. There is just exceedingly low reason to think Ohio State would have fared much better. Again, Ohio State is very good on both lines. It's just that Notre Dame was too, and it was a bloodbath.
No room to run
With Notre Dame getting worked up front, the Irish had a nightmarish time trying to run the ball. RB Theo Riddick was held to 37 yards on 10 rushes, and QB Everett Golson could never get free on scrambles, being sacked twice and rushing only five times on the whole for minus-7 yards. Golson never managed a first down on a rush, though he did score a touchdown on a keeper late.
Now, it's worth noting that Braxton Miller is a faster and more talented open field rusher than Golson. And Carlos Hyde is a harder rusher than Riddick is by miles.
But Hyde is slower than Riddick, especially in the first 10 yards of acceleration, and Alabama wouldn't have much trouble getting a tackler or three on him early.
Ohio State would rush for more than 32 yards on Alabama, and not the least because the Buckeyes would have rushed more than 19 times on the entire day. Ohio State made hay on the ground all year, and Urban Meyer is not a "panic and abandon the game plan" kind of coach in the slightest.
And yet the upper limit on expectations for Ohio State's ground game would have to be closer to Georgia's performance in the SEC Championship, and that—29 rushes, 113 yards, two touchdowns—is not a game-changer.
Sixty minutes of hell
The real reason it would be time to say good night to Ohio State's title chances against Alabama, however, is how vicious the Crimson Tide rushing game is. Notre Dame came into the BCS Championship giving up 92 yards per game on the ground, good enough for fourth in the nation...at the time.
Eddie Lacy smashed that mark by himself, earning 140 yards on 20 carries. T.J. Yeldon then stepped in and topped the century mark all over again with 108 yards on 21 more rushes. Again, this is on what was a top-five rushing defense (it finished 11th in the nation, by the way).
Ohio State's rushing defense is also stout; the Buckeyes were 14th in the nation on the year. But like what Alabama did to Notre Dame, a top rushing team can move the ball on the ground against the Buckeye front.
Wisconsin rushed for 206 yards on the day in the Buckeyes' 21-14 victory. Nebraska may have given up 63 points to Ohio State, but the Huskers still racked up 223 yards—and that was with Rex Burkhead bowing out early in the second half with a leg injury. You really think Alabama's staying below 200 yards on the ground against a talented but thin (and smallish) linebacking corps like Ohio State?
Who would win between Ohio State and Alabama?
Look, Ohio State probably wouldn't have gotten wrecked by four touchdowns in an Alabama-OSU matchup. Probably. Braxton Miller is still one of the best playmakers in all of college football, and the type of player Notre Dame desperately needed on Monday night. Everett Golson's not on that level and probably never will be.
WRs Corey Brown and Devin Smith had a penchant for big plays all year, and Urban Meyer seems like the type to spring a 10-catch performance from Jake Stoneburner on an unsuspecting opponent in a bowl game after a slow year like Stoneburner had.
But we saw a team that was most certainly on Ohio State's level waltz onto the Sun Life Stadium field to face Alabama, and we saw that team get the absolute dog snot kicked out of it for 60 minutes.
Oh well. At least there's still a minute chance that Ohio State would win that matchup. And that's more than Notre Dame's got going for it today.