2021 CFP National Championship preview: Ohio State vs. Alabama

There are three collegiate football programs you think of in the pantheon of greatness: Alabama on the East, Ohio State in the Midwest and USC on the West.

Two of those schools will duke it out for the national championship Monday evening, but the other is still trying to find its former glory. Yes, the Buckeyes and the Crimson Tide will play each other to determine a champion of one of the most chaotic seasons in college football’s history.

Game cancellations, rule changes, players opting out, name anything that could happen and college football probably had it in 2020. Now, it’s a new year and there’s no better way to cap off a crazy and controversial season than with a shootout between two of the greatest collegiate athletics programs ever.

Led by six-time champion in head coach Nick Saban, Alabama had one of their greatest offensive seasons in the program’s history. Quarterback Mac Jones finished third in Heisman voting. He was second in the nation in passing yards (4,036) and touchdowns (36). He never had a completion percentage lower than 66.7% in a single game and his lowest passer rating was 143.0 in a blowout win over Arkansas.

This offense isn’t just carried by Jones. The Tide’s offense is a three-headed monster with arguably the best running back and wide receiver in the nation.

Najee Harris is already showing promise of being a dominant back like Derrick Henry. He had his best season as a senior with 24 touchdowns and 1,387 yards on 229 carries (6.1 average). He will pummel over you with his 6’2″, 230-pound frame, hurdle over you like a great track athlete, and his second-level speed has even the fastest of defensive backs huffing and puffing.

Then, there’s DeVonta Smith. Not only did he win the Heisman Trophy as a wide receiver (first since Desmond Howard in 1991), but statistically, he had one of the greatest seasons of any wideout in college football history. Here’s a crazy stat: Smith only played in 12 games and would lead all receivers in yards by over 100. Buffalo Bills WR Stefon Diggs led the NFL in receiving with 1,535 on 127 receptions through 16 games. Smith caught 105 passes for 1,641 yards (15.6 average) and 20 touchdowns (would lead NFL as well).

These three produced the sixth-best offense in total yards per game, fifth-best in passing yards per game and second-best in terms of points per game (48.2).

Jaylen Waddle, who missed a chunk of the season with a broken ankle, will play a limited role in Monday’s game as well.

An underrated talent to watch for the Tide is sophomore tight end Jahleel Billingsley. Expect Jones to be pressured by a physical defense and go to the 6’4″ pass-catcher often. Smith will be doubled and triple-teamed often, but Billingsley will be the safety net for Jones.

Not too far behind Alabama’s offensive firepower is Ohio State. Granted they only played seven games to get to this point, but you have to give head coach Ryan Day credit. He walked into New Orleans hearing all the negative noise toward his team and blew out Clemson.

Argue all you want, the Buckeyes proved they belong in the national title game.

QB Justin Fields didn’t have the flashiest of seasons and had poor performances as well, but that all changed in the semifinal game against Clemson. His deep ball throws were a thing of beauty and his willingness to keep fighting through a rib injury. Fields finished the semifinal with a 22/28 passing line with six touchdowns and only one interception.

If Fields isn’t at his best Monday, then RB Trey Sermon should have no issue taking the bulk of the production. The Big Ten title game and semifinal were Sermon’s breakout performances as he ran for over 300 yards and two TD’s against Northwestern and had 254 all-purpose yards against Clemson. His NFL comparison is Alvin Kamara as he is solid in both the run and pass-catching game. He can do it all and will have another impressive showing against Ohio State.

While Garrett Wilson is the go-to wideout for Ohio State, look for Chris Olave to be the receiver Fields goes to. Also, keep your eye on the TE’s as well with Jeremy Ruckert and Luke Farrell.

It’s not worth mentioning the defenses because this should be in all-out, wild, wild west shootout with shots being traded left and right. This game is going to come down to which defense can force a mistake first. Maybe Shaun Wade can nab an interception while on Smith, but it’s unlikely.

Ohio State will be without two defensive linemen and an offensive lineman, so they will need their depth to show up.

This is going to be a fun, back-and-forth battle to the end, but I expect the Tide to get the better of the Buckeyes in the end because Jones, Harris and Smith are just unstoppable as a unit.

Prediction: Ohio State 38 – Alabama 52

From Sean Clark (@seancolorado97),

The Ohio State Buckeyes will take on the Alabama Crimson Tide for the first time since the 2014 Sugar Bowl, a game that saw the Buckeyes win 42-35. This time around, it is for the National Championship and we have a battle between two potential first-round picks in quarterbacks Mac Jones and Justin Fields.

Fields threw for six touchdowns in their 49-28 win over Clemson 10 days ago and has never looked better. However, running back Trey Sermon is the biggest reason for Ohio State’s offensive explosion in their last two games, gaining 254 yards against Clemson and rushing for 331 yards against Northwestern.

Fields and Sermon will face Jones and 2020 Heisman Trophy winner in wide receiver DeVonta Smith, who ripped Notre Dame apart in the Cott…. Rose Bowl for 130 yards on seven catches and three touchdowns.

With this superstar matchup, the game will come down to whomever is able to have the ball last to make the game’s biggest play. It will be a shootout and I believe Ohio State will come out on top. As good as Najee Harris has been for Alabama, Sermon has been an unstoppable machine their last two games with a terrifying blend of speed and power. Fields has unleashed his throwing prowess and with the return of Chris Olave, the passing game for Ohio State will be deadly as well. Smith, Jones and Harris will be great for Alabama, but I think Ohio State’s trio will be too good for Alabama to overcome. Sermon will rush for a late game-winning touchdown, giving the Buckeyes a 41-38 victory and their first national title since 2014.

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