Alabama clinched a trip to college football’s title game after an easy 31-14 victory over Notre Dame in the Rose Bowl/College Football Playoff Semifinal on Jan. 1. The Crimson Tide rolled to a 21-7 lead in the first half and never allowed the Fighting Irish an opportunity to close the gap with a 17-point victory. Quarterback Mac Jones led the way with 297 passing yards and four scores, with DeVonta Smith catching seven of those passes for 130 yards and three touchdowns. Running back Najee Harris hurdled his way for 125 yards on 15 attempts. Alabama’s defense did not allow a play longer than 27 yards and limited Notre Dame’s offense to just 4.7 yards a snap.
Under Nick Saban’s watch, Alabama has set the standard for the rest of college football. The Crimson Tide are 169-23 overall since 2007 and have made the CFB Playoff in six out of seven years since its inception in ’14. Saban has guided the program to five national championships since ’09. Also, Alabama has played in five out of the last six title games and has not lost more than two games since ’10. The Crimson Tide dominated the competition en route to a 12-0 record. Saban’s team won 11 of its games by 15 or more points, including victories versus Notre Dame, Auburn, Georgia and Texas A&M. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian accepted the head-coaching position at Texas but will call plays on Jan. 11.
College football’s 2020-21 season concludes on Monday, Jan. 11 with the national championship game in Miami. Why will Alabama defeat Ohio State and claim the title? Here are five reasons why the Crimson Tide will win it all:
5 Reasons Why Alabama Will Beat Ohio State for the National Title
1. Mac Jones
No team has found the right answers to slow down Alabama’s offense all season. Coordinator Steve Sarkisian has directed this group to at least 31 points in every game, with the offense scoring over 40 in 10 of 12 contests. Also, the Crimson Tide have averaged over six yards a play in every matchup and nearly eight (7.99) against ranked opponents. Sarkisian’s offense leads all Power 5 teams by averaging 48.2 points a contest and tied for fourth nationally with 11 plays of 40 yards or more.
The trio of Jones, Najee Harris and DeVonta Smith is arguably one of the best in college football’s CFB Playoff era and has powered the way for the Crimson Tide to play in the national title game. In his first full year as a starter, Jones has been lethal through the air. The junior has connected on 77 percent of his throws for 4,036 yards and 36 touchdowns to only four picks. Jones averages 11.3 yards per attempt, leads the nation in quarterback rating (203.03) and is tied for second nationally in completions of 40 yards or more. The junior has been solid throwing to all levels of the field. He’s connected on 11 of 17 passes for 321 yards and six touchdowns on passes of 20-plus yards to the left and passed for 324 yards and four scores on the right side. Also, Jones has excelled throwing between the hashes and putting the ball in places for his receivers to make plays after the catch.
2. DeVonta Smith and the Tide’s Deep WR Corps
As mentioned above, Jones’ pinpoint accuracy has allowed Alabama’s receivers to make plenty of plays after the catch in 2020. Sarkisian has also found ways to get the ball to Smith by using motion, decoys and fakes to keep defenses from keying too much on the best receiver in college football. Smith is the headliner of a deep and talented group, finishing as a Heisman finalist thanks to his prodigious production — 105 receptions for 1,641 yards and 20 touchdowns. Smith leads all FBS receivers in those three categories and averages 15.6 yards per reception.
There’s little doubt Smith is the No. 1 option in the passing game for Jones, but there’s a good collection of weapons to test Ohio State’s secondary better than Clemson did in the Sugar Bowl. John Metchie III emerged as the No. 2 receiver after Jaylen Waddle suffered an ankle injury in the fifth game of 2020. Metchie III has 47 catches for 835 yards and six touchdowns this fall, while Jahleel Billingsley (16) and Slade Bolden (21) round out the top four options. Tight end Miller Forristall (23) is also a factor, and Sarkisian will find ways to get the ball to running back Najee Harris (36) in the passing game.
Indiana showed Ohio State’s secondary is vulnerable, and Smith, Metchie III, Billingsley and Bolden will be a tough matchup for the Buckeyes on Jan. 11.
3. Dominant Offensive Line and Najee Harris
Najee Harris is the third weapon in Alabama’s talented offensive trio. The senior has gashed opponents for 1,387 yards and 24 touchdowns to go along with 36 receptions for 346 yards and three scores. Harris averages just over six yards a carry (6.06) and has six 100-yard games this season. In addition to his punishing runs and hurdling ability, Sarkisian’s ability to find ways to get the ball (or use him as a decoy) in space is another factor Ohio State’s defense will have to account for. When Harris needs a break, Brian Robinson (408 rushing yards) and Jase McClellan (245) provide support.
Alabama’s offensive line is arguably the best in college football and is a finalist for the Joe Moore Award going to the top group in the trenches. This unit has cleared the way for rushers to average 5.1 yards per carry and has surrendered just 17 sacks in 12 contests. Left tackle Alex Leatherwood, guard Deonte Brown and center Landon Dickerson earned first-team All-SEC honors, while Emil Ekiyor and Evan Neal round out the other spots on the right side. Dickerson was lost for the season against Florida, but senior Chris Owens stepped into the lineup against Notre Dame and ensured there wasn’t a drastic drop-off. Of Harris’ 230 carries, 88 have come off the edges. Ohio State’s interior line will test Owens, but Leatherwood and Neal will more than hold their own at the point of attack, giving Harris plenty of room to get outside.
4. Improving Defense
Nick Saban and a revolving door of coordinators have assembled plenty of elite defenses in Tuscaloosa. While the 2020 version of the Alabama defense isn’t quite up to the previous standard, this group has improved during the course of the season. The Crimson Tide rank second in the SEC in fewest yards per play allowed (5.0) and only one opponent (Florida) has averaged more than 4.8 in a game since Oct. 24. Also, after giving up 22 points a game through the first six contests, coordinator Pete Golding has directed this unit to give up just 16 over the last six. This unit ranks third in the SEC versus the run and leads the conference in pass efficiency defense. Also, the pass rush has improved throughout the year and now ranks second in the SEC with 34 sacks. Timely stops are essential with high-powered offenses, and Alabama ranks first in the SEC in red-zone defense.
Edge rushers Christopher Allen and Will Anderson have combined for 22.5 tackles for a loss, and lineman Christian Barmore has chipped in seven sacks. Standouts Christian Harris and Dylan Moses anchor the interior linebacker unit and pace the defense in tackles. All-American Patrick Surtain is the top coverman, giving up just 19 catches on 45 targets in 2020. Josh Jobe has been solid on the other side, allowing 23 receptions over 51 targets. Safety Malachi Moore capped a strong freshman season by earning second-team All-SEC honors.
This unit certainly isn’t a vintage shutdown group, and Ohio State will have success moving the ball on Monday night. But Golding and Saban have plenty of pieces and recent results to get the necessary stops to bring the title back to Tuscaloosa.
5. Nick Saban Factor and the Best Team in 2020
If you need to win one game to win a college football national championship, it’s probably safe to assume Nick Saban is at the top of your list. Saban — arguably the greatest coach in college football history — is 2-2 in national championships during the CFB Playoff era and 5-2 overall in title games since he arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2007. Saban’s willingness to adapt, along with the ability to reel in elite talent on the recruiting trail and develop those players have made Alabama the standard in college football. This year’s team ranked No. 1 in every CFB Playoff top 25 and simply dominated its path en route to a 12-0 record. Anything can happen in a one-game scenario. However, there’s no doubt Saban will have his team ready to play and it’s tough to pick against the program that was the best in the nation during an unusual 2020 season.