TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — One of the most intriguing aspects of the first College Football Playoff are the matchups.
Pairing top-ranked Alabama and No. 4 Ohio State brought together two of the best coaches in the game: Nick Saban and Urban Meyer.
Both have long histories of success, including national titles on their résumés. And they have a short, but intense history against each other in Southeastern Conference games when Meyer coached at Florida from 2005-10.
At the same time, they are friends with a common passion for the game.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Urban,” Saban said. “And we’ve done some things, the ESPN games and stuff together.
|Urban Meyer||Bowling Green||17-6-0|
“I consider him a good friend and certainly have a tremendous amount of personal respect for the kind of professional he is and the kind of coach he is and the kind of programs he’s had, the great teams that he’s had at Florida.”
Saban has a career record of 182-58-1 in 19 years as a head coach.
Meyer has compiled a 140-26 record in 13 years as a head coach.
Saban has posted an 91-16 record in his eight years at Alabama. He also served as the coach at Toledo (1990), Michigan State (1995-99) and LSU (2000-04).
A five-time national coach of the year, Saban is one of four coaches to win four national titles in the modern era of college football.
Meyer has been at Ohio State for three years with a 36-3 (.923) mark. He was also the coach at Bowling Green (2001-02), Utah (2003-04) and Florida (2005-10). He won two national titles while at Florida.
While competitive, they get along. Meyer and Saban sat together in SEC meetings, and worked together on committees for conference issues.
“The one thing I think both of us — I know we both committed our entire livelihood to college football and believe in players,” Meyer said. “The players are the most important part of this whole institution of college football. So we’ve had many, many conversations about how to make sure we keep the game, or do the best we can, to make sure the game stays what it is.”
Since the two went their different ways and Meyer took over a Big Ten Conference program, they’ve only met on the recruiting trail.
Both programs compete for top-level talent. Alabama recently went into Ohio to sign center Ryan Kelly, linebacker Trey DePriest and receiver Derek Kief.
“We see Urban a lot in recruiting,” Saban said. “And I know last year there were two or three players that we wanted that they got. And there were a couple that they wanted that we got. Obviously, they’ve done a great job of recruiting there and that’s why they have a very good team and that’s why they’re going to be in this playoff.”
Alabama cornerback Cyrus Jones, a junior from Baltimore, nearly went to Ohio State before Alabama lured him away.
The game for him is a look at what could have been.
“Urban Meyer is a great coach,” Jones said. “He recruited me so I know the type of coach he is. He’s going to come out fired up. It’s going to be a tough game. I respect their program and what they stand for.”
Both coaches have fond memories of their three previous SEC clashes. The final matchup saw Alabama defeat the Gators 31-6 during the 2010 regular season.
However, the first two were memorable showdowns in the SEC Championship Game.
“I probably can’t remember my address or phone number, but I could tell you probably every play in those games,” Meyer said. “The 2008 game was just one of the great games in college football history, in my opinion — when evenly matched teams were going back and forth, back and forth. We scored right at the end to take a two-score lead.”
Florida topped Alabama 31-20 in 2008 to win the SEC title on the way to the national title.
Alabama came out on top 32-13 to capture the SEC title the following year, and went on to win the national championship.
“The second year, that was one of the best teams I’ve ever coached against Alabama, and they handled us pretty good,” Meyer said. “[Mark] Ingram was a tailback and they dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides. So a lot of respect for Alabama and their coaching staff.”