2020 Game Preview: CFP National Championship – Ohio State vs Alabama
At the beginning of the year, the match up between Ohio State and Alabama would have been a favorite prediction for the championship game, but the paths both teams took to get there are a lot different. We don’t need to go into all of the details about the COVID-19 responses from their respective conferences, but both teams won their semi-final game convincingly against overmatched ACC opponents to meet up in Miami, FL for all the marbles. This will be the 5th match up between these two teams in their storied history, and the first since Ohio State defeated Alabama in the 2015 CFP in the Sugar Bowl on their way to winning the first ever College Football Playoff.
Since that game, Alabama has made the playoff 5 more times, and have won 2 national championships, with a chance for a third, and 18th overall. Ohio State has made its 4th overall appearance into the College Football Playoff, and this is their second time making the championship game. With a win for the Buckeyes, they would match Alabama and Clemson at 2 CFP National Championships, and would earn them their 9th overall championship.
Alabama is the favorite going into this game, and the Buckeyes wouldn’t want it any other way. They have embraced the role as underdog and have heard all of the upset fan bases for their inclusion into this years playoff. Much like 2014, which the Buckeyes are showing several parallels to, Ohio State is looking to silence the doubters and hoping to leave Miami with a win.
There was some discussion earlier in the week that the game might be delayed, and that Ohio State had some COVID issues, but everything looks to be clear for the matchup to kickoff on Monday, January 11th. For the most part, the two teams have been good about respecting their opponent, and not providing a lot of bulletin board material. Nick Saban’s daughter did call out Ohio State for trying to delay the game to give Fields more time to heal, but that tweet has since been deleted, and she has apologized for her comments. Screenshots though of the post can be found easily on social media, and you can be sure the Buckeyes have seen it.
As the the dust settles though, there should be no more needed fuel for this game. It is two blue bloods playing for a chance to win a national championship, and plant their name at the top of the college football landscape. Alabama has been the kings of the south under Saban, and Ohio State has been the kings of the north. It’s SEC vs Big Ten. It’s a Legend vs a Rising Star. This game has everything we love about the sport, and we can’t wait much longer for this game to kick off.
Head Coach: Nick Saban
2020 Record: 12-0
Location: Tuscaloosa, AL
Ohio State Preview: They Buckeyes punched their ticket to the National Championship game emphatically with a statement win over Clemson in the Sugar Bowl. Justin Fields has been a focal point of discussion for the match-up due to the injury to his ribs during the Clemson game, but all reports from Ohio State make is seem that he will be good to go for the game. There are some rumored COVID-19 cases on the team that may impact who will be available to play in the Championship game, but Ryan Day said they will have enough players ready for the game. Their journey to the playoff has been attacked all season, and even with a win over Clemson, social media and national news has doubted the deservedness of the Buckeyes for playing fewer games than the field, but none of that matter as they are writing their story, and a national championship would be a perfect way to end the season.
Justin Fields made a mark in Buckeye history with a win against Clemson, and has a chance to deliver a national championship in what will most likely be his final game as a Buckeye. He has passed for 1906 yards for 21 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. He added to the run game with 316 yards on 75 carries and 5 touchdowns, but he will most likely be attacking the secondary of Alabama due to his potential health.
Trey Semron is putting up great numbers, and the comparisons to Ezekiel Elliott will continue. “Zeke” made a big statement in the 2015 Championship game, and Sermon has a chance to be the player of the game with the plays he has been making since the Michigan State game. He now has 868 yards rushing on 115 carries and 4 touchdowns. He has expanded his role in the passing game as well with 12 receptions for 95 yards. Master Teague might be out for this game once more, but Miyan Williams proved he is up to the task when his number is called.
Garrett Wilson still holds the edge in receiving yards with 673 yards on 40 catches and 5 touchdowns. Chris Olave had his biggest game last week and sits at 6660 receiving yards on 42 catches with 7 touchdowns. The tight ends have been silent the last three games, but against Clemson, they accounted for 3 touchdowns, and will look to be a part of the attack against Alabama’s linebackers.
The defense now has 19 sacks on the year with 7 interceptions. Pete Werner leads all tacklers with 46 total tackles.
Alabama Preview: Alabama is at the top of College Football, a familiar place the Crimson Tide have found themselves since Saban had taken over as the head coach. The SEC started their season in late September, and as a conference, they were able to play over 90% of their games, and Alabama finished 10-0 in the regular season, and pick up 2 more wins in the SEC Championship game (which helped cement their #1 seed) and a win over Notre Dame in the semi-final. Nick Saban had to miss 1 game due to COVID against their rival Auburn, but Alabama did not miss a beat as they won 42-13. They had a powerful offense this year, rivaling the success of the LSU offense from last season who won the National Championship. Their top 3 offensive players finished in the top 5 in the Heisman voting, including DeVonta Smith, who won the Heisman, the first receiver to win the award since 1991.
Mac Jones led the offense, replacing Tua Tagovailoa who left for the NFL, and did not miss a beat. On the season, he has passed for 4036 yards for 36 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. He does have a rushing touchdown for the season, but he did not need to make plays often with his feet for the offense to click.
That honor went to Najee Harris, who is one of the top running backs in the country. He rushed for 1387 yards and had 24 rushing touchdowns on 229 attempts. He also was involved in the passing game with 346 yards on 36 catches with 3 touchdowns. He is a versatile back and is a difference maker on the field. His acrobatic skills were on full display in the semifinal game against Notre Dame as he leapt over a defender. Backing up Harris is Brian Robinson Jr who has 414 yards on 81 carries and 6 touchdowns.
DeVonta Smith stepped in as the key receiver when Jaylen Waddle went down due to injury, and he took full advantage of the opportunity. He has 1641 yards on 105 catches and 20 touchdowns. He also is the return specialist for the Crimson Tide and has 219 punt return yards and 1 touchdown. John Metchie III is the second leading receiver with 835 yards for 6 touchdowns on 47 catches. Despite the injury, Jaylen Waddle had 557 yards receiving on 25 catches and 4 touchdowns before he went down with an ankle injury.
The defense of Alabama had 35 sacks for the season and forced 12 interceptions for the season. Linebacker Dylan Moses led the team with 74 total tackles.
Buckeye Spotlight: Justin Fields. Even though Fields finished 7th in the Heisman race, if the ballots were cast after the semi-finals, Fields would have been top 3 easily. He played his best game against Clemson, and will need to put up similar numbers to give the Buckeyes a chance. We have seen teams score against Alabama, most recently Florida in the SEC Championship game, but I think Fields is better than Trask, and as Buckeye fans saw on the 1st, they have an arsenal of weapons who can catch the ball.
Crimson Tide Spotlight: DeVonta Smith. It is hard to pick anyone other than the Heisman winner, and Mac Jones had some consideration, but Smith has been the key to Alabama’s success, especially after losing Waddle earlier in the season. Ohio State’s defense will have its hands full trying to slow Smith down. Lats time when the Buckeye’s played, they were able to hold Heisman finalist Amari Cooper to under 100 yards, and 2 touchdowns, and they may need to have a similar stat line to try to keep the Crimson Tide in check.
Water Cooler Stat of the Game: 696. Ezekiel Elliott’s famous 2014 post season run (no pun intended) was for 696 rushing yards. Trey Sermon through the last two games is 524 (which is the most of any Buckeye in a 2 game stretch). If Sermon is able to close the gap, and rush for 172 yards or more in this final game, the Buckeyes should feel good about their chances to win their 9th National Championship.
Prediction: With everything on the line, these two teams have a lot of similarities on both sides of the ball, and it will really come down to the trenches, and can the Buckeyes stop the Alabama offense on 4 or 5 possessions. With the speculation of what Ohio State might not have at defensive line, and Alabama might get Waddle back, it is easy to look at Alabama having an advantage against the numbers. But if there is anything we have seen with Ryan Day so far as an OC and a head coach, he will have a game plan. This game will be a high scoring game, and with the narrative of Ohio State’s season facing several parallels to the 2014 team, I feel that Justin Fields is the better quarterback even though Mac Jones has put up fantastic numbers this season, but I think the Buckeye defensive line will be able to get pressure on Jones, who has not had so much this year.
Ohio State 42 – Alabama 35
Photo Credit to FOX