Bounced from the national title game thanks to a loss to Meyer's Florida Gators in the SEC Championship game, the Crimson Tide drew Utah in New Orleans and found itself on the wrong side of what was essentially a whuppin'. The Utes jumped all over the listless Tide, opening a big early lead and bringing it home to a 31-17 triumph that left Saban shaking his head about the lack of enthusiasm from, well, just about everybody.
"There's very little interest from our fans, our players or anybody else to play in the Sugar Bowl, which to me is a tremendous opportunity," Saban said a few months after the embarrassing loss. "I tried to tell everyone, you're only going to remember one thing about this game and that's the outcome. So there's no interest, there's no passion and everybody is embarrassed because of how we played."
That's a battle Alabama is talking about fighting again this year – their loss to Auburn in the Iron Bowl bumped them again to New Orleans, where they will face Oklahoma – and the same one Ohio State seems to be going up against as well.
The Buckeyes were on the cusp of returning to the national championship game, holding the No. 2 ranking in the BCS standings heading into the Big Ten title game vs. Michigan State, before the Spartans scored the last 17 points in a 34-24 upset that has the Buckeyes, for lack of a better term, taking their talents to South Beach.
So one of the major storylines is – can Ohio State regain its mojo coming off a devastating loss and going to a bowl that some might view as a consolation prize?
To this point, the Buckeyes are saying the right things, noting that while the Big Ten championship game loss was gutting for a couple of days, the Orange Bowl is the first BCS contest for many of the team's stars and pointing out the squad still has a chance to earn national redemption by beating a Clemson team that was also, like the Buckeyes, in the national championship race for part of the season.
"We've been fighting the last two years for a lot of things," Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier said. "We just wanted to get to a bowl game and win championships, and I still feel like the Orange Bowl is going to be our championship. We're trying to finish the season out strong."
But will the Buckeyes truly be engaged when they make it to Sun Life Stadium on the third day of 2014?
As it turns out, history says yes. Alabama's stinkbomb vs. Utah in the 2009 Sugar Bowl is the outlier in cases of teams in the BCS era that have had the ultimate prize taken away.
Previously, there have been eight teams to enter the final weekend of the regular season in the top two of the BCS – ostensibly needing just a single win to make it to the national title game – only to lose and fall out of the championship contest. Those teams are a combined 5-3, and Alabama was the only team to simply not show up, showing a lack of motivation.
In fact, that Alabama team is the only one since the first year of the BCS to lose after falling out of the national title game in the last weekend. In 1998, No. 2 UCLA saw its chance at a national title fall apart during a 49-45 loss at Miami (Fla.) in the last regular-season game, then dropped a 38-31 final to Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. Third-ranked Kansas State thus entered the Big 12 title game needing a single win to make the title contest vs. Tennessee, but it lost a 36-33 game to Texas A&M in the conference title game. That dropped KSU all the way to the Alamo Bowl, where it fell by a 37-34 score to Purdue.
Since then, history shows that teams have a pretty good ability to bounce back from late-season losses that might have seemed crippling at the time. In 2001, Tennessee fell to LSU in the SEC Championship Game but whipped Michigan, 45-17, in the Florida Citrus Bowl. In 2006, the Wolverines were again beaten handily by a team coming off a crushing loss, as USC posted a 32-18 win over the Maize and Blue in the Rose Bowl after the Trojans just missed the title game after falling to UCLA in the last game of the regular campaign.
A year later, in 2007, both No. 1 Missouri and No. 2 West Virginia fell out of the top two spots of the BCS standings with losses to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game and Pittsburgh in the Backyard Brawl, respectively, but the two bounced back well in the postseason. The Tigers crushed Arkansas by a 38-7 score in the Cotton Bowl, while the Mountaineers ran away from Oklahoma, 48-28, in the Fiesta Bowl.
And Meyer even has experience in this realm. In 2009, his Gators were undefeated and on track for a third national title in four years before a 32-13 loss to Alabama in the SEC title game. Florida rebounded quite well, drubbing Cincinnati by a 51-24 score in the Sugar Bowl in Tim Tebow's last game.
So fear not, Buckeye fans. The team might not be going to Pasadena, but it appears to have the right man in charge when it comes to making sure the team is ready to go when Buckeye Nation descends on Miami.