Ohio State enters the inaugural College Football Playoff as a fourth overall seed. It’s managed to give the Big Ten an early Christmas present, despite the conference’s horrific showing in week three of the regular season. The Buckeyes’ lone blemish came against Virginia Tech, but it’s won 11 straight games since Sept. 6, 2014. Ohio State’s offense has totaled 40+ points in nine of its 12 wins, including a 59-0 thrashing of Wisconsin in the 2014 Big Ten title game.
Head coach Urban Meyer is 36-3 at Ohio State. He’s guided the program to three 12-win seasons, three division crowns and two conference titles. Meyer is one of the best minds in college football, yet he still has unfinished business. He is 1-3 all-time against Alabama’s head coach Nick Saban. Two weeks separate Ohio State and Alabama from squaring off inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, La.
Meyer desires a second victory over Saban, but Ohio State’s impact players must dominate Alabama in order for it to happen. The Buckeyes have defeated three top-25 opponents (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan State), despite its youth. Here is a list of Ohio State’s marquee players entering a Sugar Bowl matchup against Alabama.
Ohio State’s Impact Players: Offense
Cardale Jones, Quarterback
Size: 6-5/250 pounds
2014 stats: 64.7 percent completing rating, 375 yards, five touchdowns
Summary: Ohio State lost Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett to injuries, but Cardale Jones is a solid consolidation prize. He displayed much poise against Wisconsin, completing 12 of 17 passes for 257 yards and three touchdowns. Jones was a household name at Glenville High School. He accounted for 3,857 passing yards and 40 touchdowns in his career. Jones excels at extending plays. He totaled 14 rushing touchdowns at Glenville, and has 215 yards rushing at Ohio State.
Ezekiel Elliot, Running Back
Size: 6-0/225 pounds
2014 stats: 217 carries, 1,402 rushing yards (6.5 average), 12 TDs
Summary: Ohio State used Curtis Samuel and Jalin Marshall, but Ezekiel Elliot is its primary running back. Elliot displays a solid combination of speed and vision. He’s a tough runner in between the tackles, but has no problem bouncing runs outside. Elliot had a masterful performance against Wisconsin, collecting 220 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. He’s averaged 107.8 rushing yards per game.
Devin Smith & Michael Thomas, Wide Receivers
Classification: Smith (senior), Thomas (sophomore)
Size: Smith (6-1/199 pounds), Thomas (6-3/209 pounds)
2014 stats: Smith (30 catches, 799 yards, 11 touchdowns), Thomas (43 catches, 680 yards, 8 touchdowns)
Summary: Devin Smith and Michael Thomas both can stretch the field. Both receivers display soft hands, speed and body control. Smith is a precise route runner, while Thomas excels at creating separation. Smith torched Wisconsin’s secondary with four catches for 137 yards and three touchdowns.
Ohio State’s Impact Players: Defense
Joshua Perry, Linebacker
Size: 6-4/252 pounds
2014 stats: 113 tackles (leads team), 8.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, two pass breakups, one interception and a forced fumble
Summary: Joshua Perry anchors Ohio State defensively. He does a good job of getting the Buckeyes set up on defense. Perry is good at stopping the run, but he’s also an exceptional pass rusher.
Joey Bosa, Defensive Lineman
Size: 6-5/278 pounds
2014 stats: 50 tackles (20.0 tackles for loss), 13.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, one pass breakup and a fumble recovery
Summary: Joey Bosa is Ohio State’s pass rush specialist. His ability to create leverage and attack opposing quarterbacks has given offensive linemen nightmares. Bosa’s 20 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks lead the team. He does a good job of filling in gaps in run support. Bosa will be matched up against Alabama’s freshman left tackle Cam Robinson.
Doran Grant, Cornerback
Size: 5-11/193 pounds
2014 stats: 51 tackles, five interceptions and nine pass breakups (leads team)
Summary: Doran Grant is a physical corner, despite his size. He tends to jam receivers and force them outside. Grant is a secure tackler in space, and displays solid on ball skills. He had three tackles, two interceptions and two pass breakups against Wisconsin.
Vonn Bell, Safety
Size: 5-11/200 pounds
2014 stats: 78 tackles, five interceptions, six pass breakups and a fumble recovery
Summary: Vonn Bell was a top rated defensive back out of high school in 2013. The Georgia native signed with Ohio State and has been special this season. Bell is second on the team in tackles (78). He excels at run support, but also does a good job of breaking on the ball. Bell has seven tackles and an interception against Wisconsin.
Ohio State’s Impact Players: Special Teams
Cameron Johnston, Punter
Size: 6-0/195 pounds
2014 stats: 45.1 yards per punt, 22 kicks inside the 20-yard line and 13 kick of 50+ yards
Summary: Cameron Johnston is similar to Alabama’s punter JK Scott. Opposing teams aren’t given a chance to return Johnston’s kicks. He forces opponents to drive the length of the field against Ohio State’s defense. Johnston averaged 53.0 yards per punt against Wisconsin.
Dontre Wilson, Return Specialist
Size: 5-10/188 pounds
2014 stats: 22 returns, 528 yards with a 24.0 return average
Summary: Dontre Wilson is a capable running back, but a dangerous return man. He’s placed Ohio State in good field position with his ability to set up blocks and make defenders miss. Wilson has yet registered a touchdown, but he’s electric when the ball is in his hands.