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NCAA College Football National Championship

All times Eastern

Bowl Week 3 / National Semifinals results: Rick: 4-7; Coin: 3-8
Cumulative: Rick: 113-109-1; Coin: 95-127-1

Monday, January 11

8:00 pm (ESPN) #3 Ohio State Buckeyes vs. #1 Alabama Crimson Tide (-7 1/2, 75) - Last weekend, Alabama and Ohio State advanced to the national championship game at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, bringing to a conclusion possibly the weirdest, most confounding college football seasons ever.

Nearly cancelled by the coronavirus prior to the start of the season in August, games didn't actually begin to be played until the first weekend in September when the Sun Belt, AAC and Conference-USA began a limited roll-out, and major conference play didn't begin until the second weekend, when the ACC and Big 12 conferences opened, mostly without fans, a condition that would persist at some level throughout the rest of the season.

Initially, the PAC-12 and Big Ten had cancelled the entire season, though they would eventually change their minds. By the weekend of September 26, the SEC started their conference-only schedule with every team getting onto the field.

By week 8 (October 24), the Big Ten finally got its teams onto fields in the Midwest, joined by the Mountain West conference. It would take until week 10 (November 4-7) for the PAC-12 and Mid-American conferences to don helmets and pads for a shortened, six-game schedule of games.

By then, Clemson had assumed the #1 spot in the polls, with Alabama #2, Ohio State #3, and Notre Dame #4. There would be some jostling for position the rest of the way, but the only loss by any of those four was by Clemson, on that very Saturday, downed by Notre Dame, 47-40 in double overtime in one of the best games of the year even though Clemson was without quarterback Trevor Lawrence, sat down by COVID protocols.

With the season extended into December, the four teams were set. Notre Dame lost to Clemson in the ACC championship on December 19, 34-10, while Alabama knocked off Florida in the SEC title game, 52-46, and Ohio State captured the Big Ten with a 22-10 win over a determined Northwestern defense.

On New Year's day the four settled matters in the Rose and Sugar Bowls, with #1 Alabama taking out #4 Notre Dame, 31-14, and underdog #3 Ohio State surprising #2 Clemson in a 49-28 rout.

Those games set the stage for the final game of the season, a national championship awaiting the victor. Unless there are extenuating circumstances in the game itself, there won't be even a hint of controversy. Alabama stands at 12-0, and Ohio State, which had played only six games prior to their semifinal conquest, quieted the doubters with their lopsided win over the Tigers.

While Alabama comes into the contest the favorite by a touchdown, the game is not likely to be even that close, though the winner may come as a complete surprise to many.

Alabama is blessed with one of the more potent offenses in recent memory. They average a hefty 48.2 points per game, which is second nationally, though the #1 spot is occupied by Kent State at 49.8, though the Golden Flashes only flashed their offense in a total of four games this season. For all intents and purposes, with 12 games on their plate, Alabama is the most prolific offense in the country. Their 278 total points was well ahead of the next two teams in total points, Clemson and BYU, both at 522.

While the Buckeyes only played seven games, they did end up right near the top of the best offenses in the country, averaging 43.4 per game, tied with the Buffalo Bulls for fifth place.

Against ranked opponents this season, Alabama was rock solid. starting with their 52-24 win over Texas A&M on October 3rd, followed two weeks later by a dominating performance over Georgia, 41-24, and in late November taking down Auburn, 42-13. Their narrow win over Florida in the SEC Championship suggests that they'll score plenty of points, even though more was expected of them in the win over Notre Dame.

Against Florida in the SEC title game, Mac Jones, Alabama's quarterback, threw for 418 yards, five touchdowns and one interception. Contributions to the Crimson Tide championship win were strong efforts from Najee Harris, who rushed for 178 yards on 31 carries and scored five touchdowns, two on the ground and three through the air, and, DeVonta Smith, with 15 receptions, 184 yards and two receiving touchdowns.

In their national semifinal win over the Fighting Irish, that same trio on offense led to a 14-0 first quarter and 21-7 half time lead which proved unassailable, especially after Smith grabbed another toss from Jones for seven yards and another 'Bama score. The fourth quarter was uneventful, with Will Richard knocking through a 41-yard field goal and Ian Book running in from a yard out with under a minute to play for a meaningless Notre Dame touchdown, the first Irish score in over 40 minutes.

Jones finished with 297 yards passing on 25-30 completions and four TDs. Harris carried the ball 15 times for 125 yards and Smith had seven receptions for 130 yards and three scores. All in all, it was a typical game for the firm of Jones, Harris, and Smith, except for the score. The 31 Alabama points smallest output of the season. Credit the Irish defense or lack of urgency by the Tide, but the win wasn't very special and more or less on par with Clemson's 34-10 win over Notre Dame in the ACC championship. Actually, it wasn't even as good.

Before roughing up Clemson in their national semifinal meeting, Ohio State was criticized for not playing enough games, not having a good enough running game and not having a solid defense. The Buckeyes checked all of those boxes in the 49-28 win over Clemson.

From the very start of the game, the Buckeye players were sharp, their play crisp and emotionally contained. Having six games under their belts seemed to put them at a point of peaking at just the right time. The team suffered few injuries and collectively, they had better speed and power than the Tigers.

Answering the running game question was Trey Sermon, the transfer from Texas who tore up Northwestern in the second half of the Big Ten championship game for 331 yards and a pair of TDs. As far as defense was concerned, the Buckeyes held Clemson to their lowest output of the season. Prior to their 28-point result, they had been held to 34 by Notre Dame and Boston College, and 37 in a win over Wake Forest. Every other score was 41 and up.

Besides, the Buckeyes had been improving on defense after their tough, 35-28 win over Indiana. They held Michigan State down in a 52-12 victory and stifled Northwestern after the Wildcats forged a 10-3 lead midway through the second quarter. After that, nothing. The Buckeyes completely shut them down. Northwestern's defense was the best the Buckeyes would see all season. The Wildcats allowed 15.5 points per game over eight games. Compare that to Clemson (17.5) and Alabama (19.5).

Over their last three games, Ohio State allowed just 50 points (16.6).

Defensively, it was all about clogging up the middle and stopping the run. Ohio State held Travis Etienne to a career low 32 yards rushing on 10 carries. Trevor Lawrence handled the ball 10 times for a net loss of eight yards, including sacks. Clemson, as a team, rushed for a mere 44 yards. While Lawrence hit the 400-yard mark in passing, it took him 48 throws, of which he completed only 33. Ohio State was dominant defensively and out of this world on offense.

Quarterback Justin Fields was fluid and accurate, hitting on 22 of his 28 throws for 385 yards and six touchdowns, two of each to Jeremy Ruckert and his favorite target, Chris Olave, who caught six balls for 132 yards. The Buckeyes had big play after big play, at least 12 of which went for 15 yards or more.

After a back-and-forth first quarter which ended in a 14-all tie, it was all Ohio State, scoring three TDs in the second quarter to take a commanding 35-14 lead into the half. Clemson cut into the lead with a touchdown midway through the third quarter, but the Buckeyes countered with a 56-yard strike from Fields to Olave which pretty much turned out the lights.

Since Ohio State was so dominant in their win over Clemson and the Crimson Tide not very impressive against the Irish, it would make plenty of sense to go with the Buckeyes and the seven point spread. While Alabama and their head coach, Nick Saban has plenty of big game experience and no doubt will have a precise game plan arranged, there's no doubting the ability of Ohio State's players. Fields, Sermon and Olave stack up pretty well against Alabama's big three and it's hardly a stretch to believe that Ohio State's defense is superior to the Tide's.

In the win over Clemson, Ohio State had a turnover margin of one. Fields and Lawrence were each intercepted once, and Lawrence coughed up a fumble. That was it.

In Alabama's victory over the Irish, the turnover margin was also one, to Alabama, on an Ian Book pick. First downs were even at 24, but the Tide rolled quickly and maintained their edge throughout. Notre Dame was not a good match for any of these teams, so Alabama are likely a little better than they appeared in that game.

Still, even if the two teams are rated an even match, Ohio State is good enough to win the game outright, so why not afford oneself the luxury of seven bonus points? There's a very good chance that come late Monday night, the world will be celebrating the Ohio State University's 8th national championship.

Coin Flip: Ohio State

Prediction: Buckeyes 41 Crimson Tide 35

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