By Christian S. Kohl
Both Alabama and Ohio State are regarded as monstrously strong this year. Both are obvious choices in the preseason to predict making it to the National Championship game. Both teams are thrilled with their coaches, and both coaches are thrilled with their teams. It’s great to be a part of either of these squads as a player, coach, or fan. So, with that stated, once the armor is strapped on and the war begins in 2013, which coach will walk away with the most wins?
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When assessing teams of this strength, it’s actually far more accurate to attempt to examine the probability of losses than it is to count wins. Each team has the chance to go undefeated, and virtually any loss either team encounters would be considered an upset. Which, in a sense, makes their schedule one of the most noteworthy factors when considering this issue.
Bottom line, the strength of the SEC is stronger this year than the Big 10. Ohio State will encounter tough matchups against Wisconsin and Penn State, but I doubt they’d trade those tests for LSU or Texas A&M on the road. Both teams will have to work hard each week to avoid a slip up game, but the depth of the SEC presents a much stronger test week in and week out this year than Ohio State will face.
Also, working in Ohio State’s favor is the relatively small number of key players they lost to the draft this year compared to Alabama. While the recruiting ability of Saban is stellar, it’s just not that easy to replace Eddie Lacy and three all-American offensive linemen. Conversely, the Buckeyes lost a key man in Hankins to the Giants, as well as Simon and Fragel in the later draft rounds. The Buckeyes are plugging fewer holes, and enjoying wonderful depth in their running game. Braxton Miller presents an unbelievable threat to run from the QB spot and combined with Carlos Hyde, could easily repeat their 2,000 yards rushing in this campaign.
Saban and Meyer are both attempting perfection this season, so predicting which coach will enjoy more victories can actually be made independently of a prediction of which team is better than the other. Given the strength of schedule, returning players, etc, Ohio State has the better chance to register an undefeated season than Alabama. But the talent of Alabama is absolutely undeniable. The combination of McCaron, Yeldon, and Cooper is outrageous, and the trio will anchor their bid for an undefeated season and yet another national title this year. In a sense, the wild success of Alabama in recent years burdens them in the preseason predictions, as NFL teams looting their corps talent leaves them with more unanswered questions year-to-year than the average program looking to build up with a large group of veteran talent.
Neither squad will suffer heavy losses this year, so whichever side of this question you fall on, you’ll likely be right or wrong by a maximum of one loss. These teams can flat out play, and their high-profile coaches are in those jobs for a reason. Look for the Buckeyes to edge Alabama in this duel due to a few more favorable conditions, but always keep at least one on Alabama, as their ability against even the stiffest of competition is all but unrivaled.
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Christian S. Kohl is a sports contributor for CBS Local Digital Media.