The last thing Alabama coach Nick Saban wanted to do after his No. 1-ranked team lost the Sugar Bowl semifinal in the College Football Playoff to Ohio State, 42-35, was talk about a championship game that the Crimson Tide is not going to play in. But he had to give the Buckeyes a shot to beat powerful Oregon when they meet Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas.
"I thought they were a very underrated team by everybody in terms of how people thought about them, especially the way they played against Wisconsin," said Saban, referring to OSU's 59-0 demolition of the Badgers in the Big Ten championship game.
Saban said winning that game and then the Sugar Bowl with third-string quarterback Cardale Jones, who replaced injured J.T. Barrett, was a great coaching accomplishment by archrival Urban Meyer and his staff.
"The one thing that the new quarterback does is he has a tremendous arm," Saban said. "and they have some very talented receivers. Those things became very apparent in the last two games because of the quarterback.
"I give their coaching staff a lot of credit. They're difficult to defend, they play real sound and solid on defense, really good special teams and their players are all in. They're committed. They play hard. I think they have a very good team, and they're capable of playing with anybody in the country."
When Alabama took a 21-6 second-quarter lead, it was something of a mirage because Ohio State was moving the ball but settled for field goals in two first-and-goal situations and gave up two turnovers that led to Alabama touchdowns.
"We were up 21-6 because of two turnovers and two stops in the red area," Saban said. "We weren't really stopping them. We kind of had the momentum of the game because of the turnovers we converted into scores. But we weren't really playing and executing the way we needed to even then.
"I didn't like the feel of the game . . . They had a good plan, and we gave up far too many big plays in the game, which has been a problem for us toward the end of the year. When you give up big plays and don't get off the field on third down, you've got big problems."
Meyer said his team got a boost before the game when it learned Wisconsin had beaten Auburn and Michigan State had defeated Baylor in earlier bowl games. "We made sure they knew that," Meyer said of his players. "Maybe the Big Ten is a pretty good conference after all."