Breaking down the many storylines that led 1 Alabama and 3 Ohio State to Miami for the 2021 National Championship during the coronavirus pandemic.
A trip to the National Championship is always a journey but just getting through the 2020 college football season was a whole new battle. The coronavirus pandemic directly challenged each conference, team and individual but the community of players, coaches, families and staff came together to bring us to this exact day at Hard Rock Stadium.
The Path to the Title
Just months ago, players led the #WeWantToPlay movement, parents protested for their kids’ opportunity to play this season and Ohio State quarterback, Justin Fields, shared a petition that gained over 300,000 signatures. Together, their voices were heard and their football schedule was reinstated. Yet, that was only just the beginning of this whirlwind of a season. Three out of eight of Ohio State’s regular season games were cancelled due to the coronavirus. Although they were undefeated, the Big Ten once again had to bend the rules to declare the Buckeyes eligible to play in the conference championship.
Following a subpar performance against Northwestern, many began to doubt their qualification in the College Football Playoffs, including their Sugar Bowl opponent and post-season rival, Clemson Head Coach, Dabo Swinney, who ranked Ohio State 11th in his AP Coach’s Poll. After a devastating loss to the Tigers in the Fiesta Bowl last year, this was only added motivation that fueled the Buckeyes’ thirst for redemption and it showed in their dominate win over Clemson as they punched their ticket to the National Championship.
Alabama, on the other hand, is a team that is always in the playoff conversation but they had to sit back and watch from afar last season so the Crimson Tide is looking to take back its control with this year’s National Championship. They have what it takes to do so with a loaded offense that won some hardware last week in the College Football Awards. Their offensive line took home the Joe Moore Award and three players finished in the top five Heisman rankings in quarterback Mac Jones, running back Najee Harris, and the first wide receiver to win it in 29 years, DeVonta Smith. Going up against a full trophy cabinet certainly packs on the bulletin board material.
Bulletin Board Material
Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year, Shaun Wade, was not phased by Alabama’s flashy awards. In fact, he is eager to challenge the Heisman Trophy winner on the biggest stage in college football. “You already know who I want to go up against at the end of the day,” he said when asked who he is eager to cover.
When rumors of positive tests at Ohio State began to circulate, Outland Trophy winner, Alex Leatherwood, tested the Buckeyes’ willingness to compete. “We’re going to step up to the challenge and see if they want to play football” he said at virtual media days. Even the Ohio State alumni did some trash talking of their own last week.
When Nick Saban’s daughter called the postponement comments “BS” on Twitter, former Ohio State, Cardale Jones, fired right back. “Sure you wanna face another backup from OSU? You know what happen last time right,” he responded to her now deleted tweet in reference to the Buckeyes’ monumental defeat over the Crimson Tide 6 years that led them to win the first National Championship of the CFP era. That, of course, was when he was Ohio State’s third-string quarterback.
Will Jaylen Waddle be Ready?
The extra noise still does not influence who is available for the game. Although the official status reporter will not be released until Monday night, star wide receiver, Jaylen Waddle, was cleared to practice Tuesday for the first time since his ankle injury on October 24 in the game against Tennessee. “I think the biggest challenge is can he sustain in the game,” Saban said earlier last week, “it’ll be a game-time decision as to whether he thinks he can play and go out there and do his job well enough to contribute to the team, and we won’t know that until we get out there after pregame warmup.” Waddle’s impact would be significant on their already talent packed offense. Despite playing just four games this season, Waddle tallied 25 catches for 557 yards and four touchdowns.
Justin Fields Needs Another Standout Performance
In case Justin Fields needed any more motivation, he will be fighting one last time to give NFL teams reassurance in his draft stock. ESPN’s Todd McShay recently dropped him to the third quarterback taken in the 2021 draft behind BYU’s Zach Wilson even after his Sugar Bowl record performance. If you looked at Fields’ numbers from that game, you’d never know that he suffered a brutal blow to the midsection. Despite the unbearable pain, Fields soldiered on and threw for 385 yards and six touchdowns. You could see the agony on his face during and after the game but he addressed those concerns during his media availability. “I’ll be good by Monday night,” he said throughout the week leading up the National Championship game. No matter how much he prepares there’s no telling of how he holds up in a full game against the more than capable Alabama defense.
Win the Line of Scrimmage
This game all comes down the trenches. With the recent emergence of Trey Sermon, both teams have a rushing attack to look out for. Sermon is red hot with 524 yards and three touchdowns in the past two games so the Alabama defense will have to improve from their Rose Bowl performance where they allowed too many opportunities for Notre Dame. With tight ends entering the passing game and two of the nation’s best receivers in Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, Alabama’s secondary needs to show up.
Fortunately for the Crimson Tide, they have top cornerback, Patrick Surtain II, who is up for the challenge. “We’ve seen teams like that before,” he said about the Buckeyes, “They’re very talented on both sides of the ball, even in the running game. So I feel like they bring a whole lot of dimension on the offense. They’re great receivers, of course, which brings a tremendous amount of depth in their offense, so we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Ohio State’s defense will also have their own challenge against the star studded Alabama offense. With the weapons the Crimson Tide has at receiver and the hurdling highlights of Najee Harris, the Buckeyes will have to stop the run and really pressure Mac Jones who will be well protected. The Alabama offensive line has allowed just 17 sacks this season while the Buckeyes have allowed 5.6 yards per play but on the up side, Ohio State may have hit their stride after a remarkably hold Clemson’s offense off.
The stage is set to cap off college football’s wildest year yet as the Ohio State Buckeyes and Alabama Crimson Tide face off in the 2021 National Championship from Hard Rock Stadium.