Leading up to the first ever College Football Playoff, The Players’ Tribune reached out to current NFL players from Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State and Oregon to preview their alma mater’s roster and provide a prediction for the game on New Year’s Day.
Ohio State Offensive Preview
Growing up in Ohio, I heard a lot about quarterback Cardale Jones and actually got to play against him in high school, but he was just a freshman or sophomore at the time. He’s grown a lot since then, both physically and as a player, and he’s done a great job of taking advantage of the opportunity given to him. Watching him, it’s apparent that he has great size and a really good arm, but he also has the ability to run as well. He has a lot of weapons.
At running back a guy who has really impressed me is Ezekiel Elliot. Earlier in the season, it seemed like they were looking for someone who would be ‘the guy,’ and eventually he took over. He really stood out to me during the Michigan State game. He had more than 150 yards and two touchdowns in a big game — that was when I really started to see how good he was.
A skill position guy to watch is Devin Smith. I used to play with him and I’ve seen him improve a lot. He’s an older guy now and has taken on an important leadership role on the team. He’s really playing some great ball right now.
As a group, Ohio State’s offensive line has been great this season. If you have a running back rush for 1,000 yards and more than one quarterback having a lot of success, there’s something going right up front. I think they compare to some of the great offensive lines I played with.
Against Alabama I think it’s going to be important to try to get the running game going. Ohio State has had a lot of success this season using the run to eventually open things up for their receivers downfield.
If Ohio State just keeps doing what they’ve been doing and plays the way they did against Wisconsin, they can win this game. They just need to come out playing very physical and fast.
Alabama has had some great teams in recent history, but I don’t think the team they have now compares well to the ones that have won national championships. Ohio State has the talent and coaching staff to win this game. Final score: Ohio State 28, Alabama 24.
Ohio State Defensive Preview
On the defensive line, you have to keep an eye on Joey Bosa. He was up for the Bednarik Award, given to the best defensive player in college football, and — with respect to Scooby Wright, who I never got a chance to watch play this season — I think he should have won. The guy is just a beast. He’s only a sophomore, but he reminds me of J.J. Watt. When you watch this game you’ll see why. He’s definitely the biggest impact player on Ohio State’s defense.
Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington are also definitely guys to keep an eye on. But there are a lot of great players along the D-line, and the entire unit has been a big part of the team’s success this season. Even though they’re missing Noah Spence, the line can hold its own against any team in the country.
Sophomore linebacker Darron Lee definitely jumped out to me this year. I remember watching him last year when he was a freshman and he kept moving from safety to linebacker – the coaches didn’t know where to put him. But this year he established himself as a linebacker and started reminding me of Ryan Shazier a little because he’s fast, physical, makes a lot of plays and his confidence is much higher this year.
Joshua Perry is another big linebacker who has definitely come into his own. And I’ve also heard very good things about Raekwon McMillan, who is just a freshman.
In the secondary, one player I’m particularly proud of is cornerback Eli Apple. He struggled a bit last year and I took him under my wing. His locker was next to mine and I encouraged him all of last season because I could tell he really wanted to be good, but it just takes time. So it’s been particularly gratifying to watch him playing so well this year.
Of course there’s Doran Grant, who I played with for a few years and was a First Team All-Big Ten selection. He’s played so well. I’ve texted him throughout the season to see how everything’s going. He has a big opportunity against Alabama. Doran can make himself a lot of money in the NFL if he can shut down Amari Cooper. I think he’s capable of doing it. I’ve played with him and now I’ve played in the league, and based on my experience I know that he has everything it takes to be a good cornerback in the NFL. I told him to stay in the film room leading up to this game. Cooper is a huge part of Alabama’s offense and if Doran can limit him, it’ll go a long way towards helping the Buckeyes win.
Von Bell is a sophomore safety and like me, he’s from Georgia. Last year I told him that when I leave somebody would have to start making the plays, and he told me, “I got you, I’m going to make plays, man!” He played well last year in the Orange Bowl against Clemson. I remember that he had a great pick. And sure enough he’s carried that over to this year. He’s been making plays all season. He definitely lived up to what he said. That’s one young guy that has a lot of confidence. I think it’s a Southern thing. That’s where the best football is played so that’s how we carry ourselves. I’m very proud of him.
Tyvis Powell is at the other safety position and he has a knack for clutch plays. He sealed our win against Michigan with a pick last year, and did the same this season against Indiana. It’s a great secondary, but they’ll be put to the test against Alabama.
Defending Alabama comes down to finding a way to stop Amari Cooper. I would put Doran on Cooper all game and give him some help from time to time by moving a safety over and letting them play Cover 2. I’d put Doran on him to hopefully slow him down and get in his head. We just have to make them throw to somebody else — their second-best receiver has almost 80 fewer catches than him.
Alabama is pretty good at running the ball, but so was Wisconsin before they played against us. We held Melvin Gordon to under three-yards-per-carry. We’ve always had a good run defense. Alabama will make some plays here and there, but I don’t think their run game is going to hurt us that much. And that’s why the game plan really needs to focus around shutting down Cooper. I’d put my money on Doran to make that happen.
I expect this game to be a defensive struggle early on, and it’s going to come down to who makes big plays to break it open. It’s going to be a battle throughout, but I think we’re going to come out on top. Final score: 31-27, Buckeyes.
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