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College Football Playoff championship preview: Alabama vs. Ohio State

Alabama coach Nick Saban jogs onto the field with his players before beating Notre Dame in the Rose Bowl game.
Alabama coach Nick Saban, front left, jogs onto the field with his players before beating Notre Dame in the Rose Bowl game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Jan. 1.
(Ron Jenkins / Associated Press)

The College Football Playoff national championship game between Alabama and Ohio State will be played Monday night at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.

Here’s a look at the matchup between the unbeaten Crimson Tide and the unbeaten Buckeyes:

No. 1 Alabama (12-0) vs. No. 3 Ohio State (7-0)

When: Monday, 5 p.m. PST

Where: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami

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TV: ESPN

Line: Alabama by 8 1/2

Series record: Alabama 3-1

What’s at stake: The Crimson Tide will play for their sixth national championship under coach Nick Saban, 13th overall in college football’s poll era (1936-present) and first since 2017. Alabama is 2-2 in CFP championship games. A sixth title at Alabama for Saban would match Paul “Bear” Bryant’s total with the Tide, but it would give him a record seven overall. He won a BCS title at Louisiana State in 2003. For Ohio State, it would be its seventh national championship of the poll era and first since 2014, the inaugural season of the playoff.

With a Democrat-controlled Senate, the NCAA probably will have to make more concessions to any potential name-image-and-likeness policy it supports.

Key matchup: Alabama’s interior defense, led by tackle Christian Barmore, versus Ohio State interior offensive line with guard Wyatt Davis and center Josh Myers. The Crimson Tide had a couple of bad games defending the run early in the season against Mississippi and Georgia, but they have gotten much better since as Barmore’s play has improved. Davis, an All-American, and Myers have been Ohio State’s best blockers, leading the way for running back Trey Sermons’ late-season surge (636 yards in the last three games).

Ohio State player to watch: Quarterback Justin Fields is coming off the best game of his career and maybe the best game a quarterback has had this season. Fields, a junior, threw six touchdowns and had only six incomplete passes in the Sugar Bowl against Clemson. He also took a nasty hit to the side that left him aching throughout the game. Fields’ mobility is a big part of his game. If he’s limited, it takes away a key weapon for the Buckeyes.

Alabama player to watch: Wide receiver DeVonta Smith, the Heisman Trophy winner, has been close to unstoppable in the second half of the season and had three touchdowns on seven catches for 130 yards against Notre Dame in the Rose Bowl. Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian gets the most out of Smith and keeps defenses guessing by lining him up wide, in the slot and often sending him in motion.

USC football endured another season of unfulfilled expectations, but coach Clay Helton sees plenty of promise with the direction of the program.

Of note: Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle, who broke his ankle Oct. 24, returned to practice this week for the first time. Saban said Sunday that Waddle practiced to “some degree” and whether he plays will be a game-time decision. The coach also said freshman defensive back Malachi Moore is questionable to play because of an undisclosed injury. He missed the semifinal against Notre Dame. If Ohio State wins the national championship, it will have played the fewest games of any title winner since Minnesota went 8-0 in 1941. Ohio State is 23-1 under second-year coach Ryan Day, including three victories in 2018 when he filled in as acting coach while Urban Meyer was suspended. Saban spent two seasons in the early 1980s as an assistant coach with Ohio State under Earle Bruce. Alabama quarterback Mac Jones has completed 77% of his passes. The NCAA record for a season is held by Colt McCoy of Texas, who completed 76.7% of his throws in 2008. The Crimson Tide is the first team to have players with at least 20 rushing touchdowns (Najee Harris, 24) and receiving (Smith, 20).


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