The first match-up between Alabama and Ohio State had similarities to this season’s game. For one thing, both games have the best coaches of their time. In the 1978 Sugar Bowl at the conclusion of the 1977 season, it was the nation’s two most successful coaches in Bama’s Paul “Bear” Bryant and the Buckeyes’ Woody Hayes.
There was also the possibility of a national championship on the line on Jan. 1, 1978.
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As in that game, the 2015 Sugar Bowl will match perhaps the two best coaches in college football, Nick Saban of Alabama and Urban Meyer of Ohio State. The game this season definitely has national championship implications as the winner of the game goes to Dallas on Jan. 12 to face either Florida State or Oregon for the title.
Here’s a look at the three previous contests.
1978 Sugar Bowl
It was difficult to not make it all about the coaches. Paul Bryant and Woody Hayes were at the top of their profession by any measure.
But for Alabama, particularly, there were higher stakes. Bama had played perhaps the most difficult schedule in the nation, going 10-1 – the lone loss at Nebraska, 31-24. Other non-conference games had been against Southern Cal (ranked first in the nation when Bama took a 21-20 win in Los Angeles), Louisville, and Miami.
The Tide had been second in the nation going into its regular season final game and defeated Auburn 48-21...and fell to third!
Jeff Rutledge led Alabama to a 35-6 win in the game. After a scoreless first quarter, Bama got a Tony Nathan touchdown run and a Rutledge to Bruce Bolton scoring pass for a 13-0 halftime lead. In the second half tight end Rick Neal got a touchdown pass and the Tide went up 21-0. Ohio State finally got on the board in the fourth quarter, but Bama finished it out with touchdown runs by Major Ogilvie and Johnny Davis.
Following the game, the Tide watched as Notre Dame, ranked fifth, upset Texas in the Cotton Bowl. In a very tight and controversial vote, the Irish poll vaulted to first place and Bama had to settle for second. The Tide would win the next two national championships.
1986 Kickoff Classic
Alabama was beginning the final year of the Ray Perkins Era, though no one knew it at the time, and the Crimson Tide was playing what had been tagged as the nation’s toughest schedule. Bama, ranked fifth in the nation in pre-season polls, was opening the season in the Kickoff Classic at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., against ninth-ranked Ohio State, coached by Earle Bruce. Other non-conference games that year were against Southern Miss, Notre Dame, Memphis, Penn State, and Temple.
The game on the outskirts of New York was something of a homecoming for Perkins, who had left the job as head coach of the Giants to return to his alma mater and follow Bryant as Bama head coach.
In a game that went wire-to-wire, Van Tiffin kicked three field goals and quarterback Mike Shula connected with wide receiver Al Bell on a three-yard touchdown pass and Alabama took a 16-10 win over the Buckeyes.
Gene Jelks had 34 of his game-high 68 yards rushing in the fourth quarter. Bobby Humphrey had 50 yards rushing. Shula completed 11-19 passes for 83 yards with the one touchdown and two interceptions.
The Tide’s defense was led by All-America Cornelius Bennett, but in the fourth quarter freshman Derrick Thomas had some key plays (and also was beaten a couple of times on Ohio State pass plays). 1995 Citrus Bowl
Prior to the 1995 Citrus Bowl game, Ohio State Coach John Cooper said that Alabama had been only a play away from being undefeated, noting the only loss by Coach Gene Stallings’s Crimson Tide had been by 24-23 to Florida in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game. A skeptical Ohio State reporter said, “They were only about six plays from being in the Independence Bowl.”
It’s true that Alabama had many close games in that 1994 season, going 12-1 (including the Citrus Bowl), but outscoring opponents by an average margin of less than nine points per game. Those included a one-point win over Georgia and four-point victories over Tennessee and Mississippi State.
In Orlando, it was another very close game for the Crimson Tide. Ohio State had some of the best players in storied Buckeyes history, including tailback Eddie George and wide receiver Joey Galloway.
Tarrant Lynch had a touchdown run to cap a 16-play, 80-yard drive and give the Tide a 7-0 second quarter lead. That lead lasted 13 seconds as Ohio State quarterback Bobby Hoying hit Galloway on a 69-yard touchdown pass. Later in the quarter the two hooked up for another TD following a blocked punt. The Tide got a 7-yard run from Sherman Williams to tie the game, 14-14, at intermission.
A 34-yard field goal gave Ohio State a 17-14 lead midway through the fourth quarter. Bama answered with a Michael Proctor field goal to tie it with just over four minutes to play.
With less than a minute to play, Jay Barker used a jump pass to get the ball to Sherman Williams, who weaved his way through the Ohio State defense on a 50-yard touchdown that gave Alabama a 24-17 win. Williams had rushed for 166 yards and caught passes for 155 yards and scored two touchdowns.