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CFB Playoff Championship Prediction 2020-21

Justin Fields, Ohio State

The strangest college football season in recent memory wraps up this Monday with Ohio State and Alabama squaring off at Hard Rock Stadium. It will be the first time these two meet up since the 2014 Playoff, when the Buckeyes and third-string QB Cardale Jones pulled off a pretty considerable upset over the Crimson Tide. These are obviously vastly different teams from the two that met back in 2014; for one, Alabama's offense has revolutionized, and now boasts three Heisman finalists while Ohio State has a former Heisman finalist of their own in Justin Fields and a very experienced defensive front. Alabama enters the game as the favorite but following their three-touchdown domination of Clemson, Ohio State will not go down easily.

No matter what your views are on Alabama as a whole are, it's hard to argue that their offense has been an absolute joy to watch throughout 2020. They have the first WR Heisman Trophy winner since Desmond Howard back in the early 1990s in DeVonta Smith, but he's far from the only weapon they can throw at you. Tailback Najee Harris led all running backs nationally in touchdowns, and he finished fifth in Heisman voting. He ends his 'Bama career as the top rusher in Tide history, a list that includes a host of Heisman finalists and eventual winners. In addition, John Metchie III has stepped up as a quality complement to Smith since the injury to Jaylen Waddle, totaling 835 yards and 6 touchdowns. Then there's the quarterback that is leading it all in Mac Jones, whose stat-line is truly jaw-dropping (4,036 yards, 36 TDs, 77% completion percentage). It's an offensive group without an obvious weakness, and one that can attack opposing defenses in a wide variety of ways. The most obvious problem for Ohio State's defense has been their secondary, which lost a host of veterans to the NFL last spring. Although corner Shaun Wade remains in the fold, the future NFL Draftee has had a tough season. He's had his moments, he's also struggled in some of OSU's biggest games and now will be matched up against Smith. With all due respect to Wade, that's an obvious advantage for Smith, who has decimated every secondary he's gone up against in 2020. Do the Buckeyes also have the defenders necessary to stop matchup nightmares such as Metchie and tight end Jahleel Billingsley? This is a very athletic Buckeye defense obviously, but any defense is going to struggle to stop the versatile offensive weapons Alabama can hit you with. Now, I will say that there are two possible advantages Ohio State's defense could possess here. First off, Alabama OC Steve Sarkisian recently took the head coaching job at Texas and while he is still expected to call plays, I always wonder what type of factor this will be in huge games. It's one thing to take another OC gig or an average Power Five HC job, but Texas? You best believe that Sarkisian is weighing both jobs at the same time, which is never particularly reassuring. Secondly, Ohio State does have that defensive front that I believe is vastly underrated. They have a fantastic interior D-Line led by Tommy Togiai and Haskell Garrett and a deep and experienced linebacker corps that should be able to handle Alabama's rushing attack. Alabama has an excellent interior O-Line of their own, headlined by Rimington Trophy winner Landon Dickerson, so the battle in the trenches will be a fascinating duel.

Ohio State's offense clearly needed some time to hit their stride during the shortened Big Ten season, but after dropping 49 on Brent Venables and Clemson, it's clear they've arrived. Justin Fields took an absolutely brutal shot early on in the Clemson game to the ribs, and battled through it en route to possibly his best collegiate performance of all time. He played with a confidence and energy that we really hadn't seen all season long, and he will have no shortage of motivation going up against the Crimson Tide. Fields probably won't be operating at 100 percent, but he's played several games in his college career not at full strength and still played really well. Ohio State's ground game has also been tremendous the last couple games, in particular Trey Sermon. Sermon had always flashed his talent while at Oklahoma and early on this season, but he's really been unleashed as of late. He ran for 331 yards against Northwestern then followed it up by going for 193 against a Clemson defense loaded with NFL talent. He's played a noticeably larger role due to health problems for his backfield mate Master Teague, whose status is still unclear for this one. Teague does play a major role as the power back in the offense, so his absence would still be important. On the perimeter, Ohio State's receiver group may only be passed by Alabama in terms of pure talent, as Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson lead the charge. The health of Olave is critical as you could see how much Fields and this offense missed him when he was out of the Big Ten Championship Game due to COVID protocols. Only further helping Ohio State's offense is the fact that head coach Ryan Day is possibly the best play-caller in college football right now. He's completely out-dueled Venables both times they've met (even if OSU lost once) and he shouldn't be intimidated by what Alabama does defensively. Speaking of this 'Bama defense, I'm still not actually sure how good it is. Overall, it's put up strong numbers and it's always loaded with NFL talent, but there have certainly been times in 2020 where it's been exposed. The secondary in particular is very inconsistent despite all the talent that's back there, and I think the Buckeyes will be prepared to take some shots. If you remember the 2014 Playoff game, OSU stretched the field with their deep weapons such as Devin Smith, then ran underneath with Ezekiel Elliott to great success. While these teams may be different than the 2014 editions, the formula for success remains the same.

Of course it's 2020, so COVID is going to play a major role in this one. There was some concern that Ohio State had somewhat of an outbreak this past week and the Championship Game might have to be postponed until next Monday, the 18th. However, they did manage to make it through the week and will be ready to go for this game. The fact of the matter is, there still is a good chance several players are going to have to miss this game due to COVID protocols, and we probably don't who that is going to be until close to game-time or right at game-time. That adds an interesting element to picking a winner here, in a game that I already believe could be a coin-flip. Due to the uncertainty surrounding COVID and the fact that Alabama has been just so dominant, in the end, I lean Crimson Tide in a neutral site. It's obviously not exactly a "bold" take considering what they've done throughout the Nick Saban era and in just 2020 alone, but I truly believe this Tide offense may go down as the best in college football history. Ohio State will be able to keep up, but the problems in the secondary are too significant to ignore. At the end of the day, Nick Saban will take home his seventh National Title overall and sixth since arriving in Tuscaloosca. It will be Alabama's first National Title since 2017, which just so happened to end with an OT touchdown grab from some guy named DeVonta Smith.

The Pick: Alabama, 38 Ohio State, 31

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