How Ohio State, Alabama got to the College Football Playoff championship game

Brett Hudson
Tide Sports

The College Football Playoff National Championship Game does not deliver much surprise in its matchup, featuring the Nos. 2 and 3 teams from the preseason Amway Coaches Poll, but the path there was not a simple one.

Here is more on the routes Alabama football and Ohio State took to meet in Miami for the national championship on Jan. 11.

Alabama (12-0)

Postseason: 52-46 over Florida in the SEC Championship Game and 31-14 over Notre Dame in the College Football Playoff Semifinal.

UA’s two most recent games — a six-point win and a comfortable win under 50 total points — have been the outliers for a season of dominance.

Not only did UA become the first team to win 11 games against SEC teams in one season, it did so by an average of 30.2 points.

Offensive excellence was the theme, propelling quarterback Mac Jones, wide receiver DeVonta Smith and running back Najee Harris to the top five in Heisman Trophy voting. All three have broken at least one school record, and some are well-positioned for more.

Defensively, the Crimson Tide has had an up-and-down season, with the exception of All-American and possible top 10 pick Patrick Surtain II. Its start was uninspiring, allowing 450 and 647 yards in its second and third games against Texas A&M and Ole Miss, respectively, but it allowed more than 350 yards just once in its final six regular season games.

The most recent performances, against Florida and Notre Dame, brought back old memories, allowing 462 and 375 yards, respectively. The third-down defense was particularly troubling, allowing Florida to convert 8 of 11 opportunities and Notre Dame to convert 8 of 16.

Ohio State (7-0)

Postseason: 22-10 over Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game and 49-28 over Clemson in the Sugar Bowl.

Despite being undefeated and the best team by far in its conference, the Buckeyes were fortunate to make it to the Big Ten championship game, much less the national championship game.

Ohio State easily dispatched of Nebraska and Rutgers, separated by a 38-25 win over Penn State, to start its season before what proved to be its toughest regular season game: a 42-35 win over No. 11 Indiana.

COVID-19 would quickly become its toughest opponent.

Ohio State had three regular season games, including the epic rivalry with Michigan, canceled due to COVID-19 testing and contact tracing in its own program or its opponents, originally putting it under the six-game limit required by the Big Ten to compete in its championship game. The conference changed that bylaw during the season, making Ohio State eligible at 5-0 after a Dec. 5 win over Michigan State.

COVID-19 has given Ohio State obstacles even when it plays. It was without a starting running back, a starting offensive lineman and two notable defensive linemen for the semifinal and played comparably short-handed in the Big Ten Championship Game, as well.

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Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or bhudson@tuscaloosanews.com or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson