Ten things to know about tonight’s College Football Playoff national championship game between Ohio State and Alabama.
1. It’s not the first rodeo against Alabama for OSU quarterback Justin Fields and leading rusher Trey Sermon. Both of them played against the Crimson Tide at their previous schools before Ohio State.
Fields was Georgia’s back-up quarterback behind Jake Fromm in 2018 when the Bulldogs lost 35-28 to Alabama in the SEC championship game. He was 0 of 1 passing in that game and carried the ball 3 times for 6 yards.
One of those carries came on a disastrous fake punt call by Georgia’s coaches. The snap went to Fields and he was stopped after a 2-yard gain. Alabama took advantage of this gift by driving 52 yards in five plays for the game-winning touchdown with 1:04 to play.
Sermon rushed for 19 yards on nine carries for Oklahoma against Alabama in a College Football Playoff semifinal at the 2018 Orange Bowl. He scored a touchdown for the Sooners on a 2-yard run in a 45-34 Alabama win but didn’t get many carries after Alabama jumped out to a 28-0 lead.
2. Both teams are really, really good at recruiting.
Ohio State has 14 former 5-star recruits and 52 former 4-star recruits on its roster. Alabama has 12 former 5-star recruits and 58 former 4-star recruits.
OSU and Alabama each added five 5-star recruits in the recently signed 2021 recruiting class. The other 125 FBS schools combined signed 22 of them.
Since Nick Saban took over as Alabama’s coach in 2007, the Crimson Tide has signed six players from the state of Ohio, but Ohio State has not signed anyone from the state of Alabama.
Alabama’s recruiting classes have ranked No. 1 nine times since 2011. Ohio State has ranked No. 2 four times and has been in the top five nationally three other times since 2013.
3. With two years of experience as a head coach, Ryan Day is tied for the quickest appearance in the championship game with two other coaches who got to the College Football Playoff championship game in their second season.
Oregon’s Mark Helfrich (2014) and Georgia’s Kirby Smart (2017) were the others who got there in just two years.
LSU’s Ed Orgeron and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney both were in their eighth season when their teams got to the championship game for the first time. Urban Meyer was in his 13th season as a head coach when OSU won the 2014 championship and Nick Saban was in his 20th season as a head coach when Alabama made its first playoff trip in 2015.
4. Justin Fields. Justin Fields. Justin Fields. There is no way to overstate how important Ohio State’s junior quarterback is to OSU’s chances of winning the national championship.
Has he recovered enough from the injury he suffered when he took a helmet to the ribs while being tackled in the Buckeyes’ College Football Playoff semifinal to play at full speed or near it? Or will he be limited by the injury?
And finally, who would play quarterback if Fields would have to miss more than one or two plays?
No Ohio State quarterback other than Fields has thrown a pass in a game this season. Yes, the Buckeyes won the 2014 national championship with a third-string quarterback, Cardale Jones. But he had appeared in seven games and had thrown 17 passes that season before being forced to become the No. 1 quarterback.
5. You can see if you agree with the Heisman Trophy voters that Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith is the best player in college football this season.
Smith has 105 catches for 1,641 yards and 21 touchdowns this season and is one of six first-team All-Americans Alabama has.
Alabama liked his name so much it signed another DeVonta Smith, a 4-star cornerback from Cincinnati LaSalle, in its 2021 recruiting class.
6. Alabama walk-on offensive lineman Donovan Hardin from Dublin Scioto High School is the only player from Ohio on the Crimson Tide’s roster. There are no players from Alabama on OSU’s roster.
7. Alabama coach Nick Saban has Ohio connections. He grew up in West Virginia but played football at Kent State where he was on the 1972 team, which is the only Golden Flashes football team to ever win a Mid-American Conference title.
During a 2008 interview, he remembered being in an English class as a freshman with Allison Krause, one of four students killed by Ohio National Guard troops during a May 4, 1970, anti-war protest at Kent State.
He began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Kent State in 1973. He was an Ohio State assistant coach for two years in 1980 and 1981, but was fired by Earle Bruce after the 1981 season when Bruce fired all of OSU’s defensive coaches.
Saban got his first head coach’s job at age 38 in 1990 at the University of Toledo. The Rockets went 9-2 that year but Sabin left after one season to become the Cleveland Browns’ defensive coordinator when Bill Belichick became the Browns head coach. Saban kept that job four years.
8. The two winningest FBS college football programs since 2008 are Alabama and Ohio State. The Crimson Tied has 162 wins in that time span and Ohio State has 145.
9. Ohio State is the underdog by 7 points according to the Las Vegas betting line. In the six previous College Playoff national championship games, the underdog has won three times — Ohio State over favored Oregon in the 2014 season, Clemson over favored Alabama in 2016 and Clemson over favored Alabama again in 2018.
10. Ohio State linebacker Pete Werner and Alabama right guard Emil Ekiyor are friends from when they were teammates at Indianapolis Cathedral High School.
“I’m really, really close friends with that family and with Emil,” Werner said during an interview last week. “He’s a good kid. He works really hard. He’s a big guy and he can move super well. It’s going to be fun playing against him because I had never envisioned playing him.
“But I’m excited and ready to get after him. We’ve already talked a little bit so we’re ready to get after each other.”