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I Can't Believe We Made It: National Title Preview

By Ashton Pollard | January 08
I Can't Believe We Made It: National Title Preview
Tim Heitman, USA TODAY Sports

Remember when defense won championships? Ha.

The Alabama Crimson Tide and the Ohio State Buckeyes will square off Monday night in Miami Gardens with a national championship on the line (at least I hope…I’m not sure I will even be fully confident the game will happen as the coin is in the air).

In a year when we were told to expect the unexpected, here we are, about to watch Alabama play Ohio State for the crown. At least we switched it up a little in the semifinals when we got to watch these two teams play unknown entities Notre Dame and Clemson. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

As it currently stands, Alabama is an 8-point favorite, the largest title game spread since Florida State was favored by 12 in 2013 against Auburn. Even though it’s only 7 years old, this is the largest title game spread of the College Football Playoff era. Unlike other years, this spread does have the potential to change significantly depending on who is ineligible to play due to COVID-19 protocols. We will see.

The game opened with an over/under of 77, which would have also been a Playoff record. It has since dropped to 75 and is therefore tied with the 75 O/U from the 2015 title game between Ohio State and Oregon. Regardless of that detail, expect fireworks early on Monday as the country’s most efficient offense in Alabama and the country’s third-most efficient offense in Ohio State take the field.

Does Ohio State have what it takes to stop Alabama? Probably not, but I said this about the Clemson game. You know how that went.

Let’s start with Alabama.

Alabama offense:

Is this the best offense ever? Ever is a long time, but when the receiver that was your no. 2 at the start of the season wins the Heisman and three of the top five Heisman finalists live in Tuscaloosa, it’s not an outlandish question.

Additional Alabama offensive accolades include, but are not limited to:

They’re averaging 48.2 points per game, which ranks second in America.

They’re averaging 7.8 yards per play, which ranks first in America.

They have five AP All-Americans on the offensive side of the ball.

In addition to the Heisman, DeVonta Smith won both the Maxwell Award and Walter Camp Player of the Year Award, collecting all three of the college football player of the year awards.

The Davey O’Brien Award, given to the top quarterback in the country, went to Mac Jones after he threw for over 4,000 yards this season.

Najee Harris won the Doak Walker Award, given to the best running back in the country.

The Alabama offensive line won the Joe Moore Award, given to the nation’s best offensive line.

Landon Dickerson won the Rimington Award, which goes America's best center. Note: Dickerson’s season-ending injury during the SEC Title Game was a potential “issue” (I use this term so lightly it’s not even funny) for the Tide, but Chris Owens stepped in in a seamless transition against Notre Dame.

In total, the Tide won 7 of the 15 Home Depot College Football Awards presented on Thursday night.

Good luck, Ohio State. Not sure how you defend against this.

Alabama Defense:

On the defensive side of the ball, Alabama is solid but certainly not elite. They struggled with two of the top SEC offenses in Ole Miss and Florida, giving up 647 yards and 462 yards of total offense, respectively. As was mentioned earlier, Ohio State is the nation’s third most efficient offense, while Ole Miss is eighth and Florida is tenth.

Look out for junior CB Patrick Surtain II. He was named to the AP-All American team, was named 2020 SEC DPOY, and was the defensive MVP of the 2021 Rose Bowl. Surtain is from Ft. Lauderdale, so I’m sure he won’t want to disappoint for his homecoming. His ability to limit Ohio State WR Chris Olave will be crucial if Alabama wants to keep the Buckeyes in check.

On that topic…

Ohio State Offense:

After watching Ohio State steamroll a Clemson team that had just steamrolled a Notre Dame team, the “Ohio State shouldn’t be here” people were eerily quiet. That #11 ranking will live in college football infamy.

That being said, there are a few more question marks with this Buckeye team than there are with the Tide.

For more than two quarters of the Big Ten Championship Game against Northwestern, the Ohio State offense needed a spark. Their five first half drives resulted in two field goals, two punts and an OBJ-like interception in the end zone by Northwestern redshirt freshman and 2020 AP All-American S Brandon Joseph. Enter Trey Sermon, who finished the game with 29 carries for 331 yards and two second half touchdowns. Justin Fields finished the game 12/27 for 127 yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions. Yikes.

Then the Buckeyes showed up in New Orleans.

Justin Fields shredded the Clemson defense, going 22/28 for 385 yards and six touchdowns. Yes, that’s six incompletions and six touchdowns. Beautiful doesn’t even begin to describe Fields’ 56-yard bomb to Olave with 4:55 left in the third quarter. Oh yeah, and Fields may have done a lot of this with a few broken ribs following a brutal blow to the torso from Clemson LB James Skalski in the second quarter that resulted in Skalski's second ejection from a postseason game in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in less than 365 days.

For a brief moment, college football Twitter debated if an NFL draft order we had all seemingly agreed upon in the weeks prior should flip. In hindsight, Trevor Lawrence will still go first, but it was a fun little shake up in a year of seemingly endless not-so-fun, little shake ups.

Screen Shot 2021 01 08 at 9 43 58 AM
Chuck Cook, USA TODAY Sports

So the question is, which Ohio State offense are we going to see in Hard Rock Stadium on Monday night?

I would guess it’s probably somewhere in between the disappointing Northwestern game and the shocking upset in the Sugar Bowl.

On the one hand, it’s very unlikely Fields has both six touchdowns and only six incompletions in a second straight game. Six touchdowns and six incompletions might be what it takes to challenge this Alabama offense. Additionally, it’s hard to come out and beat anyone, let alone Alabama, after an emotional win that shocked everyone outside of Ryan Day’s crew.

That being said, Ohio State has Chris Olave back, unlike they did in Indy. Trey Sermon continues to play out of his mind. Expect some points from the scarlet and grey.

Ohio State Defense:

On the defensive side of the ball, first-year defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs will probably need some divine intervention if he’s going to pull this off. Notre Dame had the right idea on Jan. 1. Their game plan was basically do not let the Alabama offense have the ball. Ever. It didn’t totally fail - Notre Dame held the Tide to their fewest point total in nearly two years - but at the end of the day, I’m not sure the Ohio State defensive line is equipped to handle the Alabama offensive line, and I’m not sure anyone on this planet is equipped to handle Mac Jones throwing over the top to DeVonta Smith.

Who ya got?

Ohio State has a sliver of hope if Justin Fields replicates what was one of the great quarterback performances in the history of THE Ohio State University. They’ll hang around for the first 30 minutes, but at the end of the day, Mac Jones, DeVonta Smith, Najee Harris - I could continue down basically the entire roster, but I won’t - will lead the Tide to their fifth national championship in 12 years. RTR.

Prediction: Alabama 48, Ohio State 35

Ashton Pollard

Ashton Pollard

Hi! My name is Ashton Pollard, and I’ve been a college football fan as long as I can remember. My dad went to Notre Dame, so I was thrown into their wild fanbase from the start. I’m originally from Richmond, VA and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2018 where I was on the varsity swim team for a few years. I’m currently a graduate student at the Northwestern Medill School of Journalism specializing in sports media and living in Chicago.

Aside from college football, I’m an ND men’s and women’s basketball fan, a New York Giants fan and an Atlanta Braves fan. Feel free to ask me why I pull for seemingly random teams - I promise I have an explanation.

I’m excited to cover both ND football and college football on a national level!

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