Clash of the Titans: Ohio State vs. Alabama
Two of the biggest and baddest school yard bullies of college football have decided to link up in the fall of 2027 and 2028. THE Ohio State Buckeyes. The Alabama Crimson Tide. Two schools who are synonymous with hardware and legendary teams with alarming regularity are set to play a home-and-home in the very near future. It is OK to be excited about the biggest non-conference schedule announcement in Ohio State history. It’s OK to be excited about a football game, even if that is in seven years.
The teams have only met each other four times in the past and only once in the past 25 years. The first three meetings were taken by the Crimson Tide in relatively comfortable fashion. A 35-6 thrashing in the ‘78 Sugar Bowl, 16-10 neutral site regular-season win in ‘86, and a 24-17 victory in the ‘95 Citrus Bowl. Going into the instant-classic Sugar Bowl of 2015 there was little optimism around the country that the Bucks could hang with the Tide. The game is still fresh on fans’ minds from both teams. The original no. 4 seed Buckeyes upset the top ranked Crimson Tide in a showdown for the ages. The game led many to believe that we were witnessing the start of a new dynasty in college football or at the least the birth of a new rivalry.
We were wrong.
A little over five years later, we are still waiting to see the Buckeyes win another playoff game and have yet to see the rematch between the two schools. Alabama then went on to play in four consecutive National Titles, winning two of them. Buckeye fans are still eager to see their team build on the confidence that game gave the program and Bama fans are itching to erase the memory of Ezekiel Elliott’s “85 yards through the heart of the south” and extract their own revenge.
The last time Ohio State played a home-and-home series with an SEC team, Greg Frey was the Buckeyes’ gunslinger leading the comeback over the Bayou Bengals of LSU in 1988 (check out QB OHIO with our boy Greg Frey that debuted tonight
on @scoreonair!). Football has completely changed in those 30-plus years. The rules are different, the venues look different, but the passion is still the same. It is time to bring these mammoth programs together for a two-part heavyweight fight.
A lot can change over the course of seven or eight years, that seems like a really long time. So why get so pumped up about a couple games that are so far away? Well to me it’s not that far away and to Buckeyes and Crimson Tide fans it probably doesn’t feel that long either. Going the same distance backwards, eight seasons ago, the Buckeyes capped a perfect 12-0 season in Urban Meyer’s first year and were a joke of a scandal away from meeting up with Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship. Instead the Bucks were stuck at home watching, that’s right, the Alabama Crimson Tide dismantle the Fighting Irish. Even though the Buckeyes had less of a shot of making the title game (because of a self-inflicted bowl ban) than Manti Te’o beating Lennay Kekua at hide-and-seek in 2012, it was easy to feel robbed of an opportunity to see Ohio State and Alabama mix it up.
Adding each other to the future schedule gives both programs a highly respected non-conference slate over the next decade. Buckeye fans have just started to get accustomed to a more demanding schedule in the early months of the year. The Jim Tressel era made it a point to try to schedule smaller Ohio schools every year in an effort to keep money in the state where both sides could benefit. More recently, however, the Buckeyes have had neutral site games, several home and homes with power five opponents and over the next 12 seasons, the Buckeyes have home-and-home series’ with Oregon, Notre Dame, Washington, Texas, Alabama and Georgia.
This trend has been largely mirrored around the country, as even schools like Alabama who are so entrenched in the south, have started agreeing to travel more early in the season. I’ve criticized Alabama and the SEC for a long time about their 8 (eight) conference game schedule, allowing them to play teams like Colgate the week before the Iron Bowl. It’s unfair to other conferences who require nine conference games. I hate it. BUT! Give credit where credit is due, Alabama has stepped up to the plate for this upcoming decade as well. They have scheduled home and homes (their first since 2010-’11 with Penn State) with Texas, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Oklahoma. That’s a GAUNTLET too! If it is such a hot trend around the country, why have programs started to schedule such rigorous schedules in the early part of the season?
To me, there are two big reasons; the playoffs and recruiting. The playoff committee has made it clear that strength of schedule and strength of wins matter. Yes, the committee has been unpredictable at times. Yes, the committee appears to change their standards every week. There are only two ways to combat that; win your damn games and make sure your schedule is up to the task of scrutiny. You can’t get away with Miami of Ohio being your biggest non-conference game anymore. You need to see a schedule that holds water from top to bottom, and teams know it.
Raising your strength of schedule would help you get into a four-team playoff, but I believe that there's more behind these moves. I think programs are preparing for an eventual playoff expansion that would see six to eight teams.Not only would these games bolster a team's resume, they also give the team an early taste of what the playoffs may feel and look like. When the Bucks go to Tuscaloosa or when the Tide come north to Columbus, they may very well be meeting for only the first time of two over a few month stretch. Depending on the structure of the playoffs, that may only be the first time they step foot into that stadium for that season as well.
The second major takeaway from the bolstering of schedules is the direct impact on recruiting. What sells high school athletes to go play for your school? The opportunity to play in front of the bright lights and TV cameras, the chance to win national championships and the chance to turn playing football on Saturdays into playing football on Sundays. Games like Ohio State - Alabama showdowns in September will dominate ratings, will feature two teams that will likely be watching the selection show in December and turn out pros unlike almost anyone else. It simply crosses all the boxes for potential recruits. The rich will get richer. Ohio State’s 2021 recruiting class is likely going to be one of the best graded classes of all time. Kids want to go somewhere with a brand. They want to be seen and talked about. They want to eventually play in the NFL. Adding more formidable teams to the non-conference schedules will continue to bring in recruiting classes at this level. Then comes championships.
I know, I know, in 2027 we may see these programs with new coaches, new aspirations, etc. Nick Saban is getting older and Ryan Day is a great fit for the NFL, a lot can change. A lot HAS changed with these programs over the years. Great coaches have come and gone, Heisman trophy winners have graduated or gone pro, titles have collected dust and new ones have been put up in place of them. That’s also why I’m not worried about this being a great two-part series. These teams ARE college football. When you think of big games, you think of the scarlet and gray and the crimson and white. Buckeye leaves and Tides’ Crimson helmets with white numbers on the helmet. There will be magic in the air on those 75 degree nights in September, regardless of whose got the clipboard or whose taking snaps. Maybe the teams meet up before 2027 in January somewhere, but we KNOW we have two more games coming between the Bucks and the Tide, and that’s worth being excited over.