NEW ORLEANS -- No. 4 Ohio State is a significant underdog against No. 1 Alabama in Thursday's College Football Playoff semifinal game at the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Yes, I'm on record picking Alabama, but I don't count out the Buckeyes. Here are 10 reasons why they can pull off the upset:
1. Urban Meyer
It all starts here, doesn't it? Meyer has won two national championships, so there aren't many other coaches you'd want on this stage. Of course, Alabama's Nick Saban has four titles and a 2-1 career record against Meyer. But with nearly a month to prepare for this game, Meyer and his standout staff figure to have found some areas to exploit and surely used every motivational tactic at their disposal.
2. Speed kills
Alabama players have said it all week long: Ohio State has as much speed as any SEC team. And it's not just lip service. With guys like Devin Smith, Ezekiel Elliott and Jalin Marshall on offense, plus some linebackers and defensive backs who can fly, Meyer has put together an SEC-like team in Columbus. "There's speed in Ohio, too," said Ohio State safety Vonn Bell, who's from Georgia. "I found that out." The Buckeyes match up well with Alabama at many of the skill positions and will be able to let it fly on the Superdome turf. It's not 2007 anymore.
3. Bosa and Bennett
Is Ohio State deep along the defensive line? Nope, and that is a concern. But the Buckeyes have two All-Americans in defensive end Joey Bosa and tackle Michael Bennett, both of whom could cause problems for Alabama's offensive line and get to quarterback Blake Sims. Great players tend to rise to the occasion, and Bosa and Bennett could take over the game if they're at their best. They've both done it before.
4. No pressure
Ohio State's players have shown no sign of nerves this week in New Orleans. They have been relaxed and engaged during interview sessions, and they horsed around a lot during Tuesday's media day at the Superdome. As the No. 4 seed whom no one expects to advance, the Buckeyes really have no pressure on them here. Plus, it's a team that's playing a whole lot of freshmen and sophomores. They might just be young enough to not realize they're not supposed to win. Things might go wrong Thursday night, but Ohio State shouldn't be too tightly wound.
Underdogs often need to win the turnover battle to succeed. Luckily for the Buckeyes, that's one of their specialties. They ranked in the top 20 nationally in turnover margin at plus-9. Alabama, meanwhile, is at minus-1 for the season. Ohio State is particularly good at picking off passes, finishing No. 4 in the FBS this season with 21 interceptions. If Sims isn't careful with the ball, he could see Buckeyes running the other way with it.
6. Cardale Jones, man of mystery
Alabama's defense doesn't have much tape to peruse of Jones, who's making only his second career start, and maybe he can play that to his advantage. Jones was impressive in his starting debut against Wisconsin when he had only six days to prepare after the injury to J.T. Barrett. He now has had almost a month to get ready and study Alabama's defense, so he should be more polished. Yes, the Crimson Tide probably will try to confuse him, but he's 6 feet 5 with a cannon for an arm. Tide safety Landon Collins compared him to Cam Newton. Maybe Jones will enjoy a Newton-like rocket ride to stardom.
7. Hunger game
The Buckeyes are sick of the Big Ten bashing. They're tired of SEC adoration. They're eager to prove themselves on this kind of national stage, especially the young players who hope to make a name for themselves. Remember this is a team that was one win away from the BCS national title game a year ago and suffered that disappointment. The Buckeyes are also still playing for the memory of deceased former teammate Kosta Karageorge; Bennett will once again wear his No. 53 jersey. Alabama is certainly not complacent, but it's a program that has won three national titles since 2009 and is perched atop the college football world. Ohio State is very hungry to get there.
8. Offensive explosiveness
Let's not forget: Ohio State is one of the best offensive teams in the country. The way to beat Alabama is to attack them in the deep passing game, an area where the Buckeyes excel. You saw what Auburn did to the Crimson Tide, right? Meyer's offense can similarly spread out Alabama and use tempo to its advantage. Ohio State averaged 45.2 points this season and scored 59 on a Wisconsin team that came into the Big Ten title game in the top five nationally in total defense. "They've got more explosive plays than anybody we've played this year," Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said.
9. Block 'O'
Almost nobody runs on Alabama. The Tide led the nation in rush defense and allowed less than three yards per attempt, thanks in large part to their enormous and gifted front seven. But don't underestimate the Ohio State offensive line, which gelled into a terrific unit after a slow start. Add in Jeff Heuerman, who's a tremendous blocking tight end, and running back Ezekiel Elliott, whom Meyer has called one of the best players he has ever had at springing others free. The Buckeyes also do a lot of different things in their running game, with jet sweep action, motions and shifts, and a quarterback run threat. That's why they ran for 260.8 yards per game, 10th best in the country. If anyone can run on Bama, it might just be these guys.
We admit: Ohio State is going to need some luck or fortune to win this game. It just so happens that we're in New Orleans, where weird and mystical things are commonplace. Alabama fell victim to Oklahoma in this city last year in a result that looks stranger in hindsight. Maybe there's a voodoo priest in the French Quarter who's secretly a fan of the Scarlet and Gray.