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College Football Playoff National Championship preview: Alabama vs. Ohio State

Programs with storied histories will meet with championship trophy at stake
College Football Playoff National Championship trophy on display in Miami Beach in 2021
Posted at 12:52 PM, Jan 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-11 12:52:36-05

Top-ranked Alabama (12-0) will face No. 3 Ohio State (7-0) at 8 p.m. Monday in the College Football Playoff National Championship at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.

How did they get here?

Alabama defeated No. 4 Notre Dame 31-14 in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Rose Bowl, which was relocated from California to Texas because of the pandemic.

Ohio State upset second-ranked Clemson 49-28 in the Sugar Bowl semifinal, avenging its loss to the Tigers in last season's semifinal.

Championship pedigree

The Crimson Tide will play for their sixth national championship under head coach Nick Saban. A sixth title for Saban at Alabama would tie him with Paul "Bear" Bryant for the most national championships with the Tide, but it would also place him alone atop the list for most overall championships by a head coach.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban and team wait to take field before College Football Playoff semifinal at Rose Bowl
Alabama head coach Nick Saban and his team wait to take the field against Notre Dame during the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Rose Bowl, Friday, Jan. 1, 2021, in Arlington, Texas.

Saban also led LSU to the 2003 national championship during the old Bowl Championship Series era.

For Ohio State, a victory would be its seventh national championship of the poll era (since 1936) and first since the 2014 season.

The Tide earned a spot among the top teams in each of the first five years of the four-team playoff and were selected again this season for the sixth time in its first seven years of existence.

Both teams have competed on the biggest stage in the playoff era, with the Buckeyes beating Oregon 42-20 in the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship.

Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Oregon Ducks in 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship
Ohio State and Oregon play during the first half of the College Football Playoff National Championship game, Jan. 12, 2015, in Arlington, Texas.

The Tide, meanwhile, are playing in their fifth national championship game in the last six seasons. Alabama is 2-2 in those games.

Matchup history

Alabama is 3-1 all-time against Ohio State, but the Buckeyes won the last meeting -- a 42-20 victory in the 2015 Sugar Bowl. The game served as a semifinal in the debut season of the College Football Playoff.

Players to watch

Alabama's DeVonta Smith became the first wide receiver to win the Heisman Trophy since 1991. He has amassed 105 catches for 1,641 yards and 20 touchdowns, including three in the Rose Bowl.

Alabama Crimson Tide receiver DeVonta Smith catches TD vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish in College Football Playoff semifinal at Rose Bowl
Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith catches a pass in the end zone for a touchdown as Notre Dame cornerback Nick McCloud defends in the second half of the Rose Bowl, Friday, Jan. 1, 2021, in Arlington, Texas.

Can Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields top his Sugar Bowl performance? Fields threw six touchdowns and had only six incomplete passes in the game against Clemson. He was also banged up after that game, but head coach Ryan Day said Fields should be ready to play Monday night.

Ohio State Buckeyes QB Justin Fields vs. Clemson Tigers in College Football Playoff semifinal at Sugar Bowl
Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields throws for a touchdown against Clemson during the second half of the Sugar Bowl, Friday, Jan. 1, 2021, in New Orleans.

Another star Alabama receiver, Jaylen Waddle, is the unknown quotient. He broke his ankle Oct. 24 but returned to practice this week. Will he play in the championship game? Saban would only say Sunday that Waddle practiced to "some degree" and it will be a "game-time decision as to whether he thinks he can play and go out there and do his job well enough to contribute to the team."

Tokyo Olympics Medal Count as of early July 29, 2021