For being two of the most historic powerhouses of college football, Alabama and Ohio State have remarkably only met four times and have never met on the other school’s campus. The National Championship Game on January 11, 2021 will be the fifth meeting between the two programs.
1978 SUGAR BOWL, New Orleans, LA, January 2, 1978
Alabama 35 Ohio State 6
The first meeting between these two behemoths came in the form of Big Ten co-champion #8 Buckeyes (9-2) and the SEC champion #3 Crimson Tide (10-1) matching two coaching legends in Paul W. “Bear” Bryant and Woody Hayes.
Alabama throttled the Buckeyes with a rushing attack of Johnny Davis, Tony Nathan, and Major Oglivie that racked up 389 yards and 25 first downs. Ohio State was held to 263 yards and 13 first downs. Jeff Rutledge threw a pair touchdown passes for the Tide.
Others on this Alabama team included EJ Junior, Don McNeal, Rich Wingo, Ozzie Newsome and Dwight Stephenson.
Despite #1 Texas and #2 Oklahoma both losing their bowl games, Alabama was not given any share of the national title for 1977. Instead, Notre Dame jumped four spots to #1 following their 38-10 rout of Texas in the Cotton Bowl. The Irish (11-1) had previously lost to Ole Miss (5-6) earlier in the season - a team that Alabama thumped 34-13. The Tide’s only loss was at #10/12 Nebraska (9-3). Hatin’ on Bama was still in vogue in 1978. But that is an article for another day.
Alabama fans like to talk about how the Tide “ruins” programs with their beat downs. Some say Hayes was never the same after Bryant took his team to the woodshed. A year later, the Buckeyes coach infamously slugged a Clemson player during the Gator Bowl and was fired soon after. He would never coach another again after that incident.
1986 Kickoff Classic, East Rutherford, NJ, August 27, 1986
Alabama 16 - Ohio State 10
This meeting was a highly-anticipated match-up between two top ten teams. This time, Ray Perkins was at the helm for the Tide and Earle Bruce was heading up the Buckeyes.
Crimson Tide legend Van Tiffin booted field goals of 38 and 44 yards to give Bama an early 6-0 advantage but Ohio State scored on a reverse play to take a one-point lead into the locker room. The Buckeyes increased their lead to 10-6 at the end of three quarters but the fourth quarter was all Crimson and White. Mike Shula found Al Bell for a score and Tiffin would tack on a third field goal for good measure. Gene Jelks, Bobby Humphrey, and Kerry Goode led the rushing attack.
Meanwhile, the defense was led by greats Cornelius Bennett and Derrick Thomas. CB Chris Goode held Hall of Famer Cris Carter to 3 receptions for 56 yards. Others playing for the Tide included Howard Cross, Wes Neighbors, and Chris Mohr. The Tide would finish 10-3 and ranked #9.
Chris Spielman was the leader on defense for OSU. In his first coaching job, Urban Meyer served as a graduate assistant tight ends coach. Still reeling from the loss, Ohio State would lose the next week to Washington but finish the season 10-3 ranked #6/7 with a Cotton Bowl win over Texas A&M. Things fell apart for Bruce in 1987 as his team stumble to 5-4-1 before he was fired.
1995 Citrus Bowl, Orlando, FL, January 2, 1995
Alabama 24 - Ohio State 17
Again these two titans meet up with different head coaches. For Bama (11-1) it was Gene Stallings. For Ohio State (9-3), John Cooper. Alabama had a fantastic season but fell to Florida in the SEC Championship Game by one point. In today’s game, that might have slotted them a spot in the CFP. In 1994 under the antiquated bowl system, it meant being shipped off to Orlando to face the second place Big Ten team.
A scoreless first quarter was followed by a flurry of offense with both teams scoring two touchdowns. The third quarter also came up empty on points. OSU would kick a field goal in the fourth and Bama would put up ten unanswered points for the win. With less than a minute to play, Jay Barker hit running back Sherman Williams over the middle who scampered for the 50-yard clincher. The Tide would finish 12-1 ranked #4/5. Dennis Riddle, Tarrant Lynch, Dwayne Rudd, Sam Shade, Will Friend, Ralph Staten, Patrick Hape, Damien Jeffries, and Michael Rogers were on this Tide team. A grad assistant named “Dabo” was also a part of this Tide team.
Ohio State had Bobby Hoying at quarterback handing off to Eddie George at running back who ran behind tackle Orlando Pace. Joey Galloway was a senior wide receiver. Now, you know why he is hatin’ on Alabama all the time.
It was seasons like this one that brought on change to how a National Champ is crowned. The inadequate Bowl Coalition would be replaced by the slightly-lesser inadequate Bowl Alliance the next season, and eventually lead to the BCS in 1998.
2015 Sugar Bowl, CFP Seminfinal, New Orleans, LA, January 1, 2015
Ohio State 42 Alabama 35
Another decade and another pair of head coaches. This time it is Nick Saban against Urban Meyer. Although the Tide did not win a championship this season, it is a team many fans hold dear to their hearts for the pluck and grit led by the most unlikeliest of hero quarterbacks, Blake Sims. On the other side was what many boast as one of the best Buckeyes team ever.
Alabama took a 21-20 lead into the half, but OSU scored on their first possession of the third quarter to take the lead. A pick-6 would push the advantage to 34-21. Alabama would fight back but a Sims interception - his third of the game - on the final play would end the threat.
Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon each scored a rushing touchdown while Amari Cooper recorded two receiving scores.
Ezekiel Elliott ran for 230 yards and two touchdowns and Cardale Jones threw for 243.
This Bama squad included Ryan Kelly, Landon Collins, A’Shawn Robinson, Reggie Ragland, Reuben Foster, Eddie Jackson, Marlon Humphrey, Cam-Rob, and OJ Howard, among many others. The OSU defense was led by Joey Bosa, Eli Apple, and Vonn Bell.
With Saban winning titles in 2009, 2011, and 2012, most folks were already tabbing him as the G.O.A.T. of college football coaching. After this 2014 season, many of the talking heads proclaimed that Meyer was right up there next to him. However, the Buckeyes would only compete in one more playoff game under Meyer (a humiliating 31-0 dismantling by Clemson in 2016) before he was forced out over the wife-beating assistant scandal. Meanwhile, Saban would win the 2015 and 2017 championships.
None of the current Ohio State or Crimson Tide players from the 2014 teams are still on the rosters, but one current Buckeye has faced Alabama. Trey Sermon was the Oklahoma starting running back against the Tide in the 2018 Orange Bowl - CFP semifinal. He gained 19 yards on 9 carries for the Sooners in the Tide’s 45-34 victory. Sermon would transfer to OSU after the 2019 season.
These two “bluebloods” will finally have the first home-and-home series in 2027 and 2028.