MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — As a jalopy of a college football season in a pandemic managed to lumber to a finish Monday night, it also managed to showcase a player so dazzling and precise he looks like he never spent a moment lumbering, not even in practice — no, especially not in practice.© Michael Reaves/Getty Images Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban won his sixth national championship with the Crimson Tide. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Somehow, with the football kingdom of Alabama claiming a sixth national championship in the past 12 seasons by 52-24 over Ohio State, and with Coach Nick Saban claiming a record seventh within the same lifetime, one player shined. Somehow, with Alabamian excellence stretching as usual from the players to the coordinators to probably the water staff and surely back to the coach, one slender marvel of a 175-pound player radiated.
Wide receiver DeVonta Smith didn’t act alone in the Alabama symphony at Hard Rock Stadium in the College Football Playoff national championship game before a scattered 14,926, but he did epitomize a mastery of detail and standard that helps mark the Saban era. The first wide receiver to win the Heisman Trophy in 29 years did run his clever, pinpoint routes and flash his frightening speed as the Crimson Tide proved confounding to the Ohio State defense and to anyone trying to keep stats.
Smith kept lining up on this side of the line or that side, turning up on this side of the field or that side. It began to look like there might be three of him.
By the end of the first quarter, he had caught five passes for 78 yards. By halftime, he had caught 12 for 215, the numbers ringing like machines in Las Vegas.
By the end, even while missing almost the entire second half and going to the locker room and returning with a bandage on his right hand, he had the 12 for 215 on his way to the record books and the NFL.
“Smitty obviously had a great . . . half,” Saban said, stopping himself before noting his star played only half the game after dislocating a finger. “. . . Heaven knows what he’d have done if he’d have played the whole game. You’re talking about the ultimate warrior.”© Sam Greenwood/Getty Images Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith scored three touchdowns in the first half of the College Football Playoff National Championship game against Ohio State at Hard Rock Stadium on Monday in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
As offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian called his last mad, maddening designs before making off for the coaching job at Texas, and as quarterback Mac Jones cemented a season of dreams with 36-for-45 passing for 464 yards and five touchdowns, and as running back Najee Harris continued to look merely formidable, Smith caught three touchdowns by halftime.
He caught a five-yarder that he carted inside the left pylon after a nifty plot in which he edged toward the backfield early in the play, then floated quickly out to the left to field Jones’s flip. That gave Alabama a 14-7 lead.
He caught another five-yarder that he carted inside the right pylon after a presnap bit of candy during which he motioned right, then motioned left behind the offensive line, then motioned back right to catch the quick pass. That gave Alabama a 28-17 lead, and that’s not to be confused with the beauty just before that, 44 yards to Smith from Jones up the right sideline.
And he caught a 42-yard touchdown on which he lined up left of Jones, then wound up lost to the Buckeyes on the deep right hash mark, blazing behind linebacker Tuf Borland to take a flawless throw from Jones. That gave Alabama a 35-17 halftime lead.
“Just with covid and everything going on, it just made things tougher,” Smith said in an on-field interview with ESPN as the confetti fell. “It just made us more together as a team, being around each other more, waking up in the morning and getting tested, just being there for each other and keeping our bubble small. Just the discipline of this team is just like no other. We just finished writing our story.”
If the college football viewer in 2020-21 had to cope with sudden cancellations and postponements here and there and over there and over there, too, and had to cope with sudden lineup changes because of positive coronavirus tests and contact tracing, at least the sight of some of the most artful passing and catching yet played in college made itself available. It made itself so gleaming Monday night that, by halftime, Smith already had surpassed the record for receptions in a championship game in the seven-year College Football Playoff concept, ahead of Hunter Renfrow’s 10 for Clemson in 2017, a mighty effort that did require four quarters.
So the game ratified Smith’s Heisman Trophy, and it upheld the Alabama offense as a starship that hovered over all its games, and it furthered a season in which Alabama fans felt barely a palpitation. During 13 wins, the Crimson Tide trailed in just two games — against Mississippi in the first half (before winning, 63-48), and against Georgia in the first half (and at halftime — before winning, 41-24). Other than that, it stayed ahead or tied.
Beyond that, the events of Monday night also exemplified a misshapen season in which depth charts kept getting jostled moments before kickoffs. That happened to Ohio State (7-1), which had to type out a 13-strong list of unavailable players, including two starters along the defensive line, nose tackle Tommy Togiai and end Tyreke Smith. Not only had those players helped cook up the pressure that inconvenienced quarterback Trevor Lawrence in Ohio State’s 49-28 win over Clemson in the Sugar Bowl of Jan. 1, but full strength remains a good policy when coping with an award-winning Alabama offensive line and the Smith-Harris-Jones (and others) beast it protects. On the plus side, defensive end Zach Harrison did return, having missed the New Orleans frolics in the Clemson backfield.
And on the other side of that, it seemed hard to imagine anyone pressuring Jones much anyway given the way he let go of the football with such accurate haste. Often he threw pop passes along the line, and often those went to Smith, including the lid-lifter on the second play. That one went quickly out to the left, where Smith caught it and made a breathtaking passage around three Ohio State defenders in the last little prism of space available on the left side of the field, stopping only 22 yards later.
Ohio State’s offense did okay but couldn’t keep up. It got help early in the second quarter on a fantastic defensive play by blitzing Buckeye Baron Browning, who hugged Jones briefly, popped out the ball and hopped on it himself at the Alabama 19 to set up a touchdown. Running back Trey Sermon, with 524 rushing yards in his previous two games, exited after one carry for two yards with an injury, but previous starter Master Teague III returned and performed credibly.
“They’re very good schematically,” Ohio State Coach Ryan Day said of Alabama, “and they have really good personnel.”
Quarterback Justin Fields, so smashing with six touchdown passes in the Sugar Bowl, passed for 194 yards and rushed for 67 while operating with a heartless margin of error. Any stall of any possession seemed lethal given the opposition ready to take the football and dazzle.
Story by Chuck Culpepper. Updates below by Des Bieler…
11:45 PM: Ohio State fails on fourth down after losing TD on review
Replays aren’t being much kinder to Ohio State than Alabama is. One play after an apparent touchdown catch was overturned on review, another would-be score was upheld as an incompletion, and then the Buckeyes threw an incomplete pass on fourth down, turning the ball back over to the Crimson Tide at the 6-yard line.
Ohio State had driven 69 yards in 17 plays, but all that accomplished was burning more time off the clock for an Alabama team holding a 52-24 lead. After getting to the 6, Ohio State thought it had scored on a pass from Justin Fields to wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, but officials ruled that the freshman bobbled the ball as he crossed the goal line.
One play later, Fields almost hit wide receiver Chris Olave in the back of the end zone, but it was not to be. However, Ohio State forced Alabama into a three-and-out and got the ball back at the Tide’s 47-yard line.
By: Des Bieler
11:20 PM: Third TD for Najee Harris has Alabama up 52-24
Alabama stopped Ohio State on a fourth-down play, then needed just six plays to get another touchdown, pushing the Crimson Tide’s lead to 52-24 early in the fourth quarter.
Running back Najee Harris scored from one yard out for his third trip to the end zone, after Alabama began the drive at Ohio State’s 43-yard line. The Buckeyes tried to run the ball on a fourth-and-one play, but they lost two yards when Tide defensive lineman Christian Barmore dropped Master Teague III in the backfield.
Quarterback Mac Jones played through a leg injury he picked up during his team’s previous drive, which also saw wide receiver DeVonta Smith go out with a hand injury. At this point, Alabama does not appear to need either player to ice a national championship, which would be its sixth since Coach Nick Saban took over the program in 2007.
By: Des Bieler
11:07 PM: Slade Bolden TD helps Alabama to 45-24 lead
No DeVonta Smith, no problem for Alabama, at least on a third-quarter drive that resulted in a touchdown and a 45-24 lead. With the Crimson Tide’s Heisman-winning wide receiver in the locker room with a hand injury, quarterback Mac Jones connected with little-used wide receiver Slade Bolden on a five-yard scoring play.
Jones also threw passes to wide receivers Jaylen Waddle and Jahleel Billingsley on the eight-play, 75-yard drive, which also saw backup running back Brian Robinson Jr. get some usage as Alabama gave Najee Harris a breather.
It was the first touchdown catch in the college career of Bolden. The sophomore receiver came into the game with 23 catches for 288 yards.
By: Des Bieler
10:59 PM: DeVonta Smith questionable to return with hand injury
ESPN reported that Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith, who went to the locker room with his right hand wrapped, was questionable to return with a hand injury. Smith, who won the Heisman Trophy last week, torched the Ohio State defense in the first half with 215 yards and three touchdowns, but he got hurt on an incomplete pass early in the third quarter.
By: Des Bieler
10:52 PM: Ohio State gets quick TD, cuts Alabama’s lead to 38-24
After a poor first half, Justin Fields got off to a strong start in the second. The Ohio State quarterback used his legs and arm to help get his team a quick touchdown on its opening possession of the third quarter.
Fields connected with wide receiver Garrett Wilson on a 20-yard pass play that, following an extra point, cut Alabama’s lead to 38-24. Earlier in the three-play, 75-yard drive, Fields broke off a 33-yard run, after completing a 17-yard pass to Wilson.
Fields, who threw for six touchdowns against Clemson in their CFP semifinal game, had just six completions for 90 yards and no touchdowns in the first half on Monday.
By: Des Bieler
10:43 PM: Alabama starts second half with field goal, leads 38-17
After ending the first half with a punt, Alabama began the second with a field goal, thus getting a mere three points out of its past two possessions. Of course, the Crimson Tide scored five touchdowns in its first six possessions, so it can afford a certain lack of perfection while building a 38-17 lead.
Will Reichard connected from 20 yards out, capping a 16-play, 75-yard drive. Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith, who racked up 12 catches for 215 yards and three touchdowns in the first half, did not touch the ball on the drive, getting just one opportunity on an incomplete pass. ESPN’s telecast showed that Smith was checked for a finger injury.
By: Des Bieler
10:17 PM: DeVonta Smith, Alabama hold 35-17 lead over Ohio State at halftime
Ohio State finally forced a punt, and Alabama settled for taking a 35-17 lead to the locker room at halftime. The Crimson Tide’s previous six possessions resulted in five touchdowns and a fumble, and wide receiver DeVonta Smith put on a clinic.
Alabama’s Heisman Trophy-winning star torched the Buckeyes for 215 yards and three touchdowns on 12 catches over the first two quarters. By comparison, Ohio State had 190 yards as a team.
While Tide quarterback Mac Jones completed 25 of 30 passes for 342 yards and four touchdowns, OSU counterpart Justin Fields, who threw for six touchdowns against Clemson in their CFP semifinal game, could manage just six completions on 15 attempts for 90 scoreless yards.
Running back Master Teague III, filling in for an injured Trey Sermon, was a bright spot for the Buckeyes, rushing for 62 yards and two scores on 12 carries. However, he was outplayed by Alabama back Najee Harris, who posted 111 yards from scrimmage, along with his own pair of touchdowns.
Facing the best offense among Power Five teams this season, OSU came into the game needing another big performance by Fields, plus a few stops by its defense. The Buckeyes have gotten very little of any of that, instead being served a heaping helping of Smith.
By: Des Bieler
9:55 PM: Third DeVonta Smith TD has Alabama up 35-17
We have a hat trick for the Heisman winner, with two quarters still to go.
DeVonta Smith scored on a 42-yard grab from Mac Jones, running past the Ohio State defense for his third touchdown and helping give Alabama a 35-17 lead. The Crimson Tide needed just three plays to go 60 yards and put the Buckeyes into a world of trouble as the teams vie for a national championship.
Alabama got the ball after a three-and-out by Ohio State, whose star quarterback, Justin Fields, has been struggling. The Buckeyes will need Fields to hit on some big plays, and get some more on the defensive end, to overtake Alabama on the scoreboard.
By: Des Bieler
9:48 PM: DeVonta Smith’s second TD helps Alabama to 28-17 lead
DeVonta Smith is continuing to make it look far too easy to get open, and he’s showing why he was more than deserving of the first Heisman Trophy awarded to a wide receiver in 30 years.
Smith scored his second touchdown of the CFP championship game, this one from five yards out. That capped a five-yard, 75-yard drive in which Alabama again moved downfield with little apparent obstruction from Ohio State defenders.
Smith, who had a 44-yard catch-and-run earlier in the drive, is now up to 173 yards and two scores on 11 catches. Worth noting: It’s still the first half.
By: Des Bieler
9:40 PM: Ohio State gets field goal, now behind Alabama by 21-17
After benefiting from a very consequential penalty call, Ohio State stalled near the goal line and settled for a 23-yard field goal from Jake Seibert. That made the score 21-17 in Alabama’s favor, in the second quarter of the CFP championship game.
Four plays earlier, on a third-and-11 play from Alabama’s 16-yard line, Ohio State tight end Jeremy Ruckert had the ball dislodged on a crossing pattern, but Alabama safety Jordan Battle was flagged for targeting. Battle was ejected from the game, and the Buckeyes got a first down at the 8.
Earlier on the drive, Ohio State gashed Alabama on the ground on consecutive plays, with a 28-yard run by quarterback Justin Fields followed by a 29-yard jaunt by running back Master Teague.
By: Des Bieler
9:26 PM: Najee Harris scores again, Alabama goes up 21-14
It remains to be seen if Alabama will ever punt in this CFP championship game. A second Najee Harris score made for a third touchdown for the Crimson Tide in the first half, with its other possession having ended quickly on a fumble.
Harris showed off good hands, speed and elusiveness in pulling in a lofted pass from Mac Jones before going around and through Ohio State defenders en route to the end zone. The running back’s 26-yard touchdown helped give his team a 21-14 lead.
Gallery: Players to watch: Pre-New Year’s Day bowls (Yardbarker)
Alabama went 75 yards in just five plays on that drive, showing off a seemingly unstoppable offense much as it had in the first half against Notre Dame in their CFP semifinal game. With nine minutes left in the second quarter, Jones has completed 16 of 18 passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns, while Heisman-winning wide receiver DeVonta Smith already has nine catches for 124 yards and a score.
By: Des Bieler
9:17 PM: Ohio State turns Alabama fumble into TD, ties game at 14-14
Ohio State forced an Alabama fumble and took full advantage. Taking over at the Crimson Tide’s 19-yard line, the Buckeyes quickly got the ball into the end zone to tie the CFP championship game at 14-14.
Running back Master Teague III, filling in for an injured Trey Sermon, punched it in from four yards out for his second touchdown of the game. The play was set up by a 15-yard pass interference penalty drawn on the previous snap by wide receiver Jameson Williams.
Alabama quarterback Mac Jones had coughed up the football when he was hit in the backfield by Ohio State linebacker Baron Browning.
By: Des Bieler
9:12 PM: Ohio State RB Trey Sermon reportedly sent to hospital© Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images Trey Sermon rushed for 524 yards in Ohio State’s previous two games. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
ESPN reported on its telecast of the CFP championship game that Ohio State running back Trey Sermon was on his way to a hospital with an apparent collarbone injury. Sermon had been shown heading to the locker room after the Buckeyes’ first drive of the game, during which he was gang-tackled by Alabama defenders after a short run.
If Sermon cannot return to the game, that would be a major blow to OSU’s offense, given that he was the team’s leading rusher. The senior back had caught fire of late, with 524 rushing yards in the Buckeyes’ past two games, a span that included wins in the Big Ten championship game and in a CFP semifinals upset of Clemson.
However, Master Teague III showed that OSU has an impressive backup plan, if not a Master plan. He ran for an eight-yard touchdown on the Buckeyes’ second drive and a four-yard score early in the second quarter.
By: Des Bieler
9:03 PM: WR DeVonta Smith scores TD, Alabama takes 14-7 lead
On a drive that heavily featured Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith, the Alabama wide receiver scored an easy-looking touchdown to help give his team a 14-7 lead over the Crimson Tide. Smith was left essentially uncovered as he flared out to the left side, where quarterback Mac Jones found him with a flip of the ball, after which Smith trotted in for the score.
Running back Najee Harris, who scored Alabama’s first touchdown on fourth down from the 1, converted another fourth-and-one play, this time from the OSU 10-yard line, to set up a first-and-goal situation from the 7-yard line.
Over three of Alabama’s first four plays on the drive, Smith caught three passes for 47 yards before the Crimson Tide began grinding out yards with Harris.
By: Des Bieler
8:48 PM: Ohio State marches for TD, ties Alabama at 7-7
After Alabama showed on its opening possession that it will indeed be very hard to keep off the scoreboard, Ohio State did what it needed to do: get into the end zone on its next possession.
Running back Master Teague III, playing in place of an injured Trey Sermon, ran eight yards around left end for a touchdown that helped tie the CFP championship game at 7-7. With the Buckeyes’ starting place-kicker, Blake Haubeil, out after testing positive for the coronavirus, freshman Jake Seibert made the extra point.
OSU quarterback Justin Field completed three of four passes on the eight-play, 75-yard drive, which included a one-handed grab for 36 yards by tight end Jeremy Ruckert.
By: Des Bieler
8:36 PM: RB Najee Harris scores on fourth down, Alabama takes 7-0 lead
Alabama took a 7-0 lead against Ohio State when Crimson Tide running back Najee Harris scored from one yard out on a fourth-down play. That came after a video review which upheld the officials’ ruling that the ball Alabama wide receiver Slade Bolden caught at the goal line on third down did not break the plane for a touchdown.
Harris’s score capped a 12-play, 78-yard drive on Alabama’s first possession, after Ohio State began the game with a three-and-out.
Earlier on Alabama’s drive, wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, who had been out since October with a fractured ankle, caught a pass from quarterback Mac Jones for a 15-yard play. Waddle limped off the field after the play.
The bigger injury concern, however, might belong to Ohio State, whose star running back, Trey Sermon, went to the locker room with what was reported to be a shoulder injury. Sermon carried the ball on the game’s first play for a two-yard gain, then was targeted on an incomplete pass attempt. OSU quarterback Justin Fields was tackled from behind for a one-yard gain on the next play, after which the Buckeyes punted.
By: Des Bieler
8:04 PM: Jaylen Waddle reportedly to play for Alabama; Ohio State missing pair of defensive linemen© Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle warms up before the College Football Playoff championship game. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ESPN reported on its telecast before Monday’s CFP championship game that Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle would try to play, likely in a limited role. Waddle, an explosive pass-catcher and punt returner, has been out since fracturing an ankle in October.
His potential addition would make an already potent Alabama attack all the more dangerous. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes will have to try to win a national title without two important contributors to their defensive line.
Ohio State announced shortly before kickoff that a pair of starters, nose tackle Tommy Togiai and defensive end Tyreke Smith, were among players who would be unavailable for the game. Togiai in particular had emerged this season as a disruptive force, and his absence could make life easier for Alabama running back Najee Harris.
Other inactive players for Ohio State include: cornerback Cameron Brown; defensive lineman Jacolbe Cowan; offensive lineman Dawand Jones; defensive tackle Ty Hamilton; wide receiver Jaylen Harris; place-kicker Blake Haubeil; linebacker Mitchell Melton; safety Kourt Williams; and running back Miyan Williams.
By: Des Bieler
7:30 PM: Ryan Day’s unlikely path to Ohio State shows how miraculous it is to find the right coach© John Bazemore/AP Ryan Day reacts has only lost one game since taking over as head coach of the Buckeyes. (John Bazemore/AP)
For Ryan Day to lose the puny one game he has lost as a head coach, the 2019 Fiesta Bowl national semifinal, the following had to happen:
• Three early ventures to the red zone that stalled for field goals.
• A video overturn of an either-or call on an Ohio State fumble return touchdown.
• A closing interception when the quarterback and receiver miscommunicated for the quarterback’s third pick out of 354 attempts that season.
• A crucial roughing-the-punter call.
• A pivotal (and accurate) targeting call that rearranged momentum in a 16-0 game.
• A transcendent opposing quarterback stomping 67 yards on a remarkable run that seemed to shake the cactuses outdoors.
• A late and brilliant 94-yard drive (in four plays!) by a big-game Godzilla of an opponent.
There’s probably more, and if you sit around late at night with Ohio State fans even in some distant year such as 2050, they probably would recite all 169 plays of Clemson’s 29-23 win in a spiral of excruciation and maybe even beer. Ohio State outgained Clemson 516-417 that evening, but that’s not the measurement they use for gauging who wins.
As the national championship game approaches next Monday with a field full of wow players and a head coach (Nick Saban) so omnipresent in those that he seems almost like a topographical formation on the sideline against a head coach (Day) making a debut, there’s a curious second question.
The first goes: Can Day beat Saban? That one always seems to rise to maybe at best.
The second goes: Can Saban beat Day? And that one carries a trace more mustard than you might expect, seeming almost similar to, Can Saban beat Urban Meyer?, which always seemed freighted with a bit more doubt than most such questions.
By: Chuck Culpepper
7:20 PM: Nick Saban continues a stretch unmatched in the history of college football© Ron Jenkins/AP Coach Nick Saban could win his seventh national championship as a head coach Monday night. (Ron Jenkins/AP)
MIAMI BEACH — It’s closing night in college football, or “Closing Night With Nick Saban,” because it hardly seems closing night anymore without Nick Saban. He even appeared as a commentator for LSU vs. Clemson last January, and it’s a wonder some TV producer didn’t accidentally usher him to the sideline to coach somebody.
By Monday night when Alabama plays Ohio State, the Alabama coach will have appeared in nine of the past 18 closing nights. He will have appeared in closing nights from South Florida (twice), New Orleans (twice), Atlanta, Tampa, suburban Phoenix and both Southern and northern California.
Discount his two years with the Miami Dolphins, which rendered him ineligible for closing night, and that’s nine of 16. Discount his first year at Alabama because the only people who don’t discount coaches’ first seasons are those who have overdone the tipple at the tailgate, and that’s nine of 15.
It’s a stretch unmatched in the history of college football, a history so weird that it’s hard to imagine what’s matched and what isn’t. It’s a stretch that stretches all the way back into a different era, when Saban appeared in a Sugar Bowl in which the teams combined for 466 yards. Combine for 466 yards nowadays, and speaking of the TV producers, they come to the sideline and run you the hell out of the stadium on a rail.
By: Chuck Culpepper
7:10 PM: Heisman winner DeVonta Smith puts tiny town of Amite City in the spotlight© Kent Gidley/AP Alabama’s DeVonta Smith became the first wide receiver to win the Heisman Trophy since 1991. (Kent Gidley/Heisman Trophy Trust/AP)
To that small list of the rare cities and towns that wind up sending sons to the lectern at the Heisman Trophy presentation, do add Amite City, La., which carries a distinction. With a population of around 4,547, it outwrestles Tuttle, Okla., for the charm of the smallest such town this century. It fit snugly that when Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith, a favorite of his teachers back at Amite High, won the hallowed trophy Tuesday night, 100 or so people gathered in the community center, his parents right up front.
“Some of those people have seen me since I was a little kid, playing youth football and youth basketball,” Smith said.
By: Chuck Culpepper
7:00 PM: Trey Sermon’s cameo at Ohio State might be remembered forever in Columbus© Gerald Herbert/AP Ohio State could take a tip from Ole Miss as it tries to topple Alabama. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Running back Trey Sermon, a Georgian who matriculated to Oklahoma and then matriculated to Ohio State, has appeared on the floor of a Rose Bowl in which Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield and Jake Fromm played quarterback, an Orange Bowl in which Tua Tagovailoa and Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray played quarterback, a Peach Bowl (sideline, while injured) in which Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow and Jalen Hurts played quarterback and a Sugar Bowl in which Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields played quarterback.
Now, a mere two bowls shy of the entire New Year’s Six dinner set before he exits for the NFL, he will appear for Ohio State against Alabama in a national championship game come Monday in Miami Gardens, Fla., featuring Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith and giving Sermon two appearances against Alabama in playoff games at Hard Rock Stadium alone.
By: Chuck Culpepper
6:50 PM: Alabama’s much-maligned defense gets to show how far it’s come© Ron Jenkins/AP Alabama’s defense has gotten better as the season has progressed. Here, Patrick Surtain II (2) stops Notre Dame running back Chris Tyree, with help from Jordan Battle (9) and Byron Young (47). (Ron Jenkins/AP)
Without jammed-in crowds, mass tipsiness and deafening scorn aimed at villainous visitors, college football games often lacked vividness this season. The few that did elbow their way into the memory bank included a madcap beast back on Oct. 10 in Oxford, Miss., where Alabama beat Mississippi, 63-48, and outgained it 723-647 in the highest-scoring non-overtime game in SEC history. The harrowing ride took a meticulous pupil from the defensive side of coaching, Nick Saban, and shook him into something that resembled queasiness.
He does not coach football to witness 647 yards against.
At that point, the Alabama defense became an urgent issue of wide-ranging concern, threatening to dampen moods in living rooms across Tuscaloosa and beyond, with limited capacity in a pandemic to convene and discuss dampened moods. In the ensuing game, Georgia got 24 points by halftime.
By: Chuck Culpepper
6:42 PM: Ohio State place kicker out after positive test
Ohio State’s starting place-kicker, senior Blake Haubeil, will not play in the College Football Playoff championship game after he announced that he tested positive for the coronavirus.
In his place, the Buckeyes are likely to go with freshman Jake Seibert, who kicked in a pair of games earlier this season when Haubeil was injured. Seibert missed his one field goal attempt, from 44 yards, but he made all 13 of his extra point attempts. Haubeil made five of seven field goal attempts this season and was perfect on 24 extra points.
Haubeil made his announcement early Monday evening while making clear his frustration in a lengthy social media post.
“I’m extremely upset, but at the same time I’m overwhelmingly thankful to be an individual who is asymptomatic,” he wrote. “I have spent the past 4 months making sacrifices, and have not seen family and friends one single time. So, to say I’m pissed off is a complete understatement.”
Reports emerged last week that coronavirus issues among the Buckeyes’ might cause the delay of the championship game, but Ohio State officials insisted that there was no deviation from the plan to play on Monday. Ohio State, and the Big Ten overall, experienced major pandemic-related disruptions to a regular season already truncated because of the threat of the coronavirus.
By: Des Bieler
6:39 PM: Here’s how Ohio State can upset Alabama© Gerald Herbert/AP Ohio State could take a tip from Ole Miss as it tries to topple Alabama. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
After Alabama, the SEC champion, steamrolled Notre Dame, 31-14, in the Rose Bowl, No. 3 Ohio State showed everyone they belonged in the playoffs with a 49-28 thrashing of Clemson in the Sugar Bowl. Now those two programs will meet in the college football national title game.
It will be the first time these two schools have clashed since the 2015 Sugar Bowl, when the Buckeyes defeated the Crimson Tide, 42-35, in an upset during the inaugural college football playoff semifinals, en route to a national championship. Another Buckeye victory would be an upset, too. Alabama opened as a seven-point favorite that has since widened to eight points.
Alabama hasn’t lost this season, so there is no blueprint to follow in that regard, but they did have two uncharacteristic wins against Mississippi and Florida in the SEC title game that can give us some clues to the Tide’s vulnerabilities.
By: Neil Greenberg
6:31 PM: Alabama vs. Ohio State: What to watch for in the CFP championship© Getty Images/Getty Images Ohio State’s Justin Fields, left, and Alabama’s DeVonta Smith. (Getty Images)
Despite being two of college football’s handful of true heavyweights for most of this millennium, Alabama and Ohio State have mostly circled each other rather than having squared off directly. In fact, their only meeting since the 1995 Citrus Bowl took place in 2015 — when the Buckeyes defeated the Crimson Tide in the first College Football Playoff game to be staged, then used that semifinal victory as a springboard to a national championship.
Since then, Ohio State has lost twice in the CFP semifinals, both times to Clemson, while Alabama has made a championship-game appearance in four of the past five years, twice losing to Clemson and twice winning it all. With another triumph on Monday, the top-seeded Tide will be looking to notch the school’s 16th national title (per the NCAA) and sixth since Coach Nick Saban took over the program in 2007. It would be No. 7 for Saban personally, including a BCS championship he won with LSU after the 2003 season.
The Buckeyes, seeded third in the CFP this year, are vying for their ninth national title, second since the 2002 season and first under head coach Ryan Day. To reach Monday’s game, Ohio State (7-0) had to upset Clemson, while Alabama (12-0) dispatched Notre Dame.
In helping defeat the Tigers in the semifinals, Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields decisively won a mini-battle with Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who is widely expected to go first overall in April’s NFL draft. With his six-touchdown performance, Fields reestablished himself as a likely high pick in his own right, and a subplot Monday will be how much he and Alabama quarterback Mac Jones impress NFL evaluators.
Of course, there will be plenty of other top-tier talent on the field at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., led by Alabama’s DeVonta Smith, who last week became the first wide receiver since 1991 to win the Heisman Trophy. The Tide boasts another offensive standout in running back Najee Harris, while the Buckeyes can counter with running back Trey Sermon and wide receiver Chris Olave.
A major X-Factor for Alabama could be wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, who might be able to see his first action since fracturing his ankle in October. Ohio State’s best hope to win may rest on a dominant performance by its talented defensive line against the Tide’s excellent set of blockers; if Jones isn’t forced into mistakes or at least made to feel very uncomfortable, Fields will have to submit another stellar performance just to keep up on the scoreboard.