For the sake of this comparison we’re going to define strategy as how each of these two programs (and Florida under Meyer) have achieved their success levels.
In the case of Alabama in the Saban era, the strategy has been a stifling defense coupled with a run-dominated offense that in most years puts just enough points on the board to keep the wins coming.
To illustrate, since 2008 the Crimson Tide have only been ranked below No. 2 nationally in scoring defense once, a flagrant misdeed that occurred in 2010 when they finished the season ranked a lowly No. 10.
Offensively speaking, Alabama has slowly put more points on the board as the Saban era has marched on, but still the No. 12 national ranking in scoring in 2012 marks the high-water mark for the unit since 2007.
The only passing blip on the radar during Saban’s tenure at Alabama came in 2010 when the Tide finished No. 27 in passing yards. Other than that, the best mark came way back in 2007 when the No. 59 ranking was achieved.
The running numbers, the strategy that works best for Saban, are much healthier, averaging a No. 20 ranking from 2008 through 2012.
To begin our multi-pronged approach to looking at Ohio State’s strategy, we’ll start with a quick glance back at what made the Buckeyes successful under Tressel and then move on to the more relevant business of Urban Meyer’s resume.
During the final four seasons of the Tressel era, Ohio State, like Alabama, was all about stifling defense and again, like the Tide, the Buckeyes weren’t likely to light up the scoreboard.
Ohio State never fell out of the top six in scoring defense from 2007 to 2010, giving it very similar numbers to the Crimson Tide of the same time period.
The Buckeyes did rise to a No. 11 ranking in scoring in 2010, but other than that they never made the kind of progress under Tressel that the Tide made have managed under Saban.
What’s most striking when looking back at the Buckeyes' offensive stats is their imbalance from a run/pass standpoint.
To illustrate, in 2008 and 2009 Ohio State ranked No. 24 and No. 19 nationally in rushing yards, while during the same years it ranked No. 105 and No. 104 in passing yards. It was a one-dimensional attack to the max.
Moving on to Urban Meyer’s strategy during his tenure at Florida and then during his single-season thus far at Ohio State, we first see continuity from the standpoint of rushing being the offensive emphasis.
Though his offense might look completely different than that of Tressel’s at Ohio State or Saban’s at Alabama, Meyer’s Gator products and one Buckeye team share the common trait of scoring points on the ground as opposed to through the air.
But, this is where the similarities stop.
Yes, Meyer fielded No. 4 ranked scoring defenses at Florida in 2008 and 2009, but other than those two high marks, his 2007 D ranked No. 46, his 2010 product was rated No. 29 and his 2012 squad was ranked No. 31.
Not necessarily the top-five stuff we’ve seen out of Saban and Tressel.
Next, you’ve got the fact that historically, Meyer fields teams that are going to score some serious points.
For example, the Gators finished each of the 2007 through 2009 seasons ranked in the top 10 in points scored. His first product at Ohio State was ranked No. 21 (the second highest finish for the Bucks in six tries).
At the end of the day, Meyer’s path isn’t necessarily the same as Tressel’s was or Saban’s is.