In a championship game appropriate for the odd season that 2020 was, the 7-0 Ohio State Buckeyes will play the 12-0 Alabama Crimson Tide on Monday night. It’s a battle between two of college football’s most elite blue bloods. It’s also strange that one team has played five fewer games to get here…but…without Ohio State’s persistence, it’s possible the Big 10 might not have played this year at all. Also, their 21 point (and it wasn’t that close) win over #2 Clemson in the semi-final certainly validates their playoff selection – at least in most people’s eyes.
Alabama…has been the Death Star of college football since 2009 and even though some bad luck and injuries kept the Tide out of the playoff (narrowly) last year, they are back and have won all but two of their 12 games by more than two touchdowns. They cruised over Notre Dame 31-14 in the semis, and now face the team that defeated them in the first playoff back after the 2014 season.
Storylines emerging include Ohio State’s quarterback Justin Fields dealing with a rib injury of…some kind…we’re not 100% sure and the Buckeyes are, understandably, not specifying. It was sustained on a brutal hit – though not, in my view, dirty in any way just unfortunate - by Clemson’s James Skalski that got the linebacker ejected. Also, Ohio State has had COVID concerns percolating, there are rumors that one or two position groups are down some players. There was even a one day rumble on social media about Ohio State trying to move the game a week later but that rumor was shot down by the evening.
On Alabama’s side, they have emerged from the SEC season mostly injury free with two very notable exceptions. First, they are without Landon Dickerson who just won the Rimington Award as the nation’s top Center. He was injured late in the SEC Championship Game. Earlier in the year, sensational junior WR Jaylen Waddle fractured his ankle. Now it appears he will be a game time decision to play. Ironically – Alabama fans were quick to pounce on Ohio State for allegedly wanting to delay the game for Justin Fields’ health, when another week would likely guarantee Waddle would be on field.
So – to the game. The line as of today was between 7.5-8 points with an expected combined score of 85 (O/U). This will be a classic matchup. I believe that Alabama probably has a little too much firepower for an Ohio State secondary that has not been elite – especially if Waddle plays any significant time. Ohio State needs pass rush to affect Mac Jones and get the Tide out of rhythm. Their line - while very good against Clemson - has not had the elite depth that they’ve had in the previous years with Chase Young and the Bosa brothers. Alabama’s offensive line is elite though weakened by the loss of Dickerson at center. Now – this will be a shootout, back and forth. I think that Alabama – while not the elite defense they have been in past years – is a little better positioned to get one or two more stops than Ohio State.
The One Big Thing I’ll Be Watching: Both teams will score plenty. When one team gets a turnover or forces a rare punt, it’s going to be critical that they turn that possession into points. If either team can get ahead by more than one score (so 10-15) the pressure will start to build on the opponents offense. Frankly – even forcing field goals in this game should be looked at pretty favorably.
In honor of old White Sox baseball announcer “Hawk” Harrelson…
Alabama “Pick to Click”: WR Jon Metchie. Metchie has made huge plays in passing game, particularly when overlooked as 3rd WR with Waddle in game. Even if Waddle doesn’t play, Metchie has had a quieter second half of season - I’m looking for a surprise. He can get open deep, and if he has a big game, that probably spells bad news for Ohio State’s defense.
Ohio State “Picks to Click”: Ohio State’s Tight Ends - Jeremy Ruckert, Luke Farrell and Jake Housmann. Overlooked for most of the year in the passing game (but an important part of their blocking scheme), they had a bit of a coming out party in the semi-final against Clemson. Alabama has struggled against elite tight ends like Kyle Pitts and the Ole Miss crew…these three are not that level of talent but could present really important matchup issues as Tide defense will be more focused on Buckeye WR Chris Olave and RB Trey Sermon in the pass game.
The Bottom Line: If Waddle plays I believe Alabama wins and covers the spread, maybe in neighborhood of 10 -12 points. If he is more limited, I think it’s going to be tight and Ohio State will at least beat the spread. (No, I don’t gamble, please rely on my advice at your own risk). I’m calling it Alabama 47, Ohio State 38…but as a Tide fan I am terrified. Should be a great game. Let me know your thoughts on Twitter @ReadyCFB.