When Ohio State completes its eight-game schedule tonight against Alabama in the College Football Playoff national championship game it will be the shortest OSU season since the 1941 team played eight games.
At times it seemed much longer. Maybe more like 16 games.
From spring practice being stopped in its first week, to the season being canceled then reinstated with a downsized schedule, to having three games wiped out and more, all because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 season has been a long journey.
Ohio State coach Ryan Day talked about that during a press conference he shared with Alabama coach Nick Saban on Sunday morning when he said, “It certainly has been a strange road to get here.”
Day called the last few months chaotic and said, “Some days you woke up, you didn’t know which direction you were going in.
“Certainly there was a time where we didn’t think we’d have a season, when we weren’t sure if we were going to restart a season, goes to show you how strong our guys have been. Every program has gone through some different version of it. At some point we’re going to sit back and go through all this stuff. Now is not the time.
“All the focus is on playing in this game. But it certainly has been a strange road to get here. No matter what’s come our way we’ve handled it,” he said.
The question now is if Ohio State (8-0) has the right stuff to handle Alabama (12-0) tonight in Miami.
With talent like Justin Fields, Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, Trey Sermon, an offensive line playing its best football of the season and the confidence created by a 49-28 win over Clemson in a College Football Playoff semifinal, Ohio State’s offense can do some damage to Alabama’s defense.
That defense allowed 46 points against Florida in the SEC championship game and gave up 48 points against Mississippi in the third game of the season. Those are the two highest scoring games by Alabama opponents in the 14 seasons Nick Saban has been the Crimson Tide’s coach.
If Ohio State’s defense can get some stops, it can win this game and claim its third national championship since 2002.
But that’s easier said than done.
Alabama’s defense has played well enough in its other 10 games that it ranks 13th nationally in points allowed (19.0 per game) and 32nd in yards allowed per game (353.2).
But it is an offense which has many play makers and the ability to strike quickly that makes Alabama such a big challenge.
Alabama has scored at least 31 points in every game this season. It averages 48.2 points a game on offense, No. 2 nationally.
Quarterback Mac Jones has thrown for 4,036 yards and 36 touchdowns with only four interceptions. His No. 1 target is Heisman Trophy winner LaVonta Smith (105 catches, 1,641 yards, 21 TDs). John Mitchie has 47 catches.
Najee Harris (1,387 yards rushing, 27 TDs) leads Alabama’s running game.
Defensively, the two biggest keys might be controlling the line of scrimmage, as OSU’s line did against Clemson, and avoiding disastrous breakdowns in the secondary, which happened all too frequently earlier in the season.
The odds makers have Alabama as a favorite by a touchdown. The underdog has won three of the previous six College Football Playoff championship games (Ohio State in 2014, Clemson in 2016 and 2018).
Ohio State is good enough to add to that list of upsets. It is good enough if Fields is close to 100 percent healthy and not too many other starters are unavailable. But without knowing that, it’s tough to pick against an Alabama offense that always seems to have an answer when it’s challenged.
The prediction: Alabama 42, Ohio State 35.