Kickoff preview: College Football Playoff National Championship, Ohio State vs. Alabama


MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA – JANUARY 11: Justin Fields #1 of the Ohio State Buckeyes warms up prior to the College Football Playoff National Championship game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Hard Rock Stadium on January 11, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

The College Football Playoff National Championship will feature two of the most dominant teams in the country on Monday night: No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Ohio State. The Buckeyes needed just six games to win the Big Ten Conference, while Alabama is a perfect 12-0 atop the SEC with the Heisman Trophy winner on their side.

Here’s what you need to know:

QB Justin Fields is the real deal

Many critics questioned whether Buckeyes signal-caller Justin Fields could hang among the top QB’s in college football. In the CFP semifinals, Fields put up 385 passing yards and six touchdowns against No. 2 Clemson and consensus first-overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft Trevor Lawrence.

He did all this despite a rib injury in the second quarter. While that has sparked concern about his availability Monday night, Head Coach Ryan Day says he’ll be ready.

Fields opens up the run game

With a dynamic QB, defenses already have their hands full this season allowing OSU RB Trey Sermon to put up some monster numbers. In the last three games, Sermon has rushed for 636 yards and four touchdowns.

The former Oklahoma star has made the difference in an already explosive Ohio State offense. Playing behind an offensive line that looks its best all season, Sermon could be poised for another big performance in the CFP National Title game.

Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith

The Alabama receiver has been on the receiving end of some high praise these past few months, taking home the Heisman, Biletnikoff and Maxwell awards. The senior hauled in 105 catches for 1,641 yards and 20 touchdowns. He led the nation in receiveing touchdowns (20) and receiving yards, the next highest total was 448 yards less (Elijah Moore, Ole Miss, 1,193 yards).

Ohio State has struggled with its pass defense this season, allowing 281.1 yards per game (that ranks 116th in the country).

QB Mac Jones could make the difference

While the Alabama quarterback lost the Heisman to his teammate Smith, his numbers this season are still eye-popping. He completes 77 percent of his passes for 4,036 yards, 36 touchdowns and just four interceptions this season.

Jones is surrounded by talent with the Crimson Tide (they’ve got three players finishing top five in Heisman voting). Smith provides a dynamic option in the passing game, while Najee Harris gets it done on the ground. In 12 games, Jones has thrown for over 400 yards four times, and has two games with five passing touchdowns. Against a beat up secondary, this Ohio State matchup favors the Bama offense.

COVID-19 issues at Ohio State

There were talks of moving this game to next Monday, January 18th while the Buckeyes work to contain an ongoing outbreak of COVID-19. Late last week, Ohio State officials notified parties involved that there could be entire position groups sitting out due to COVID-19 tests and contact tracing.

Just hours before the game, Ohio State announced it will go without its place kicker Blake Haubeil, who tested positive for the virus earlier on Monday. He has made five of seven field goals this season, and all of his extra point attempts.

List of players unavailable for OSU:
CB Cam Brown
DL Jacolbe Cowan
K Dominic DiMaccio
DT Ty Hamilton
WR Jaylen Harris
K Blake Haubeil
OT Dawand Jones
LB Cade Kacherski
LB Mitchell Melton
DE Tyreke Smith
DT Tommy Togiai
SAF Kourt Williams
RB Miyan Williams

Kickoff is Monday at 8 PM on ESPN.

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