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Why is this news?: Tom Herman may hold the key for an Alabama national title

Just because Ohio State isn't in the title game doesn't mean a former Buckeye won't have an influence on the game.

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

"When we give up explosive plays, it makes the team tired. It demoralizes you, and that’s what Ohio State did. I’m sure Clemson is watching that game, but we’ve tried to correct that game all year."

-Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, via Mark Schlabach, ESPN

Ohio State and Alabama fans alike remember the spanking the Buckeyes imposed on the Crimson Tide in last year’s Sugar Bowl matchup, as the Ohio State offense racked up 537 total yards against what was thought to be a superior defensive front. Quarterback Cardale Jones, in just his second start, threw for 243 yards, one touchdown and an interception. Wide receiver Evan Spencer even managed a touchdown pass of his own to Michael Thomas. But those performances were topped by running back Ezekiel Elliott’s 230 rushing yards and two touchdowns. The Tide simply could not stop Tom Herman’s high-tempo offense.

Now, Alabama is facing a similar threat in No. 1 Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship. With their quick, no-huddle offense and high-scoring style, Clemson is eerily similar to the team Alabama lost to a season ago. But head coach Nick Saban has spent an entire year preparing for this sort of matchup, and it all began with a call to then-Ohio State offensive coordinator, Tom Herman.

In the offseason, after Herman was announced as Houston’s head coach, Herman spoke with Alabama’s defensive coordinator Kirby Smart on the phone before coming to Tuscaloosa to meet with Nick Saban in person. Herman explained how the Buckeyes’ offensive strategy wore down the large defensive lineman of Alabama early on in the game, playing sideline-to-sideline and forcing the defense to play more snaps. Ohio State was especially potent on third-down, averaging 20.1 yards per play and keeping the defense on the field. Now, in preparation for Clemson, Alabama has made critical adjustments, like rotating linemen and recruiting more athletic linebackers, keeping the defense fresher against a fast-paced offense. We’ll see how the changes work out against the No. 15 scoring offense in college football.

"If people are waiting around for us to be apprehensive or fearful, they’re at the wrong place. I can’t wait to get started with them and get them on the field and let them play."

-Ohio State cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs, via Bill Rabinowitz, The Columbus Dispatch

The Ohio State Buckeyes coaching staff is anything but anxious this offseason. Sure, they missed out on the College Football Playoff after beginning the 2015 season as the unanimous No. 1 team in the AP Poll. Sure, they are losing nine underclassmen to the NFL Draft, with several expected to be first-rounders. Sure, they have a long way to go by any stretch. But none of that has been cause for concern in the nascent offseason.

Despite only six starters from 2015 returning for the 2016 season, coaches and captains are optimistic about the fall. Ohio State currently has the No. 3-ranked recruiting class nationally by 247sports, with two five-star commits. They also had the No. 7 class in 2015 and No. 3 in 2014.

There is also help at critical positions to develop this youth. Quarterback J.T. Barrett is heading into his redshirt junior year and, for the first time, is almost assuredly the starter, barring injury. Pat Elflein is moving to center after a first-team All-Big Ten season at right guard. Middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan, who was named a captain for 2016, was Ohio State’s only five-star commit in 2014, and is heading into his second season as a full-time starter. Other players, including defensive end Sam Hubbard and tight end Marcus Baugh, earned playing time as the season wore on

Going along with the young roster come more tempered expectations for next season. Heading into this past season, anything short of a repeat-national championship seemed unacceptable for Buckeye nation, given the total dominance demonstrated in the 2014 post-season. Now, expectations are more in line with how the Buckeyes began 2014--in prime striking position, but not the team with the target on their collective backs.

Ohio State may not be playing for the national championship tonight in Arizona, but the football program is holding onto the top spot of college football’s most valuable program, according to a study by Ryan Brewster of Indiana University Purdue University Columbus. Ohio State football leads the nation with an estimated value of $946.6 million--far above the second-ranked Texas Longhorns who come in at $885 million (Ohio State overtook Texas last year for the No. 1 spot nationally). Michigan, coming in third nationally, is valued at $811.3 million.

The study aimed to project what college football teams would be valued at if they could be bought and sold on the open market similar to professional franchises. Overall, the value of college football programs across the board has dropped 1.8 percent in light of concerns over concussions and player safety. This year in particular, revenue dropped as a result of the College Football Playoff being played on New Year’s Eve rather than New Year’s Day, with ratings down nearly 40 percent for the semi-final matchups. Last year, four teams were valued over $900 million, with Ohio State sitting on top at over $1.1 billion. Now, Ohio State is the only team above that benchmark.

Texas ranks first nationally for football revenue, raking in $128 million annually, with Alabama coming in at the No. 2 spot with $120 million in revenue to its $694.9 million valuation. Clemson, which ranks 30th nationally in value at $237.5 million, is the least-valuable team in the College Football Playoff.