Examining which under-the-radar players or factors could be crucial to deciding the national title
Alabama is 60 minutes away from the program's sixth national championship since 2009. Coach Nick Saban's team is led by a dynamic offense that features quarterback Mac Jones, running back Najee Harris and Heisman winner DeVonta Smith at receiver. While the Crimson Tide aren't as strong on defense as some of Saban's earlier championship squads, this unit still has enough to slow down Ohio State on Monday night. Alabama went 11-0 in the regular season to clinch a spot in the CFB Playoff and dominated Notre Dame 31-14 in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.
While all eyes will be on Jones, Harris and Smith, a couple of under-the-radar players always break out with performances that could help decide the winner of the national championship. Which players or other aspects could be an x-factor on Monday? Here are five players to watch:
5 Alabama X-Factors That Could Determine National Title
Will Anderson, LB
As a true freshman, Anderson seems to get better and more disruptive with every snap this fall. He’s recorded 10.5 tackles for a loss in 12 games and leads the defense with seven sacks. Those seven sacks all came over Alabama’s last five contests, including two against Florida in the SEC Championship Game. Anderson didn’t record a sack against Notre Dame, but he did manage four pressures against a veteran offensive line. Both teams have a ton of firepower on offense, so timely stops, negative plays or turnovers are crucial. Don’t be surprised if Anderson generates a negative play or a sack to help stall one of the Buckeyes’ drives.
Jahleel Billingsley, WR
There’s no doubt DeVonta Smith is the unquestioned No. 1 target for quarterback Mac Jones. However, with Ohio State likely to focus more attention to Smith’s side of the field, there will be opportunities for other receivers to shine. Billingsley is one of them. After catching one pass in Alabama’s first six games, he’s grabbed 15 in the next six. For the season, Billingsley has 260 yards and three scores over 16 catches.
Chris Owens, C
Owens stepped into the starting lineup after Landon Dickerson was lost for the year in the SEC Championship Game due to injury. The senior played 57 snaps against Notre Dame and allowed two quarterback pressures. Owens doesn’t lack for experience with 37 overall appearances, but the national championship against a standout defensive front for Ohio State is a different task.
Will Reichard, K
Kicker is one of the few positions Alabama has struggled at in recent years, but that’s not the case in the 2020 season. The Alabama native has connected on all 13 of his attempts, including all four 40-plus yards this fall. If the game comes down to a kick, Alabama should feel good about Reichard’s chances of connecting on a game-winning field goal.
Jaylen Waddle, WR
Waddle suffered a fractured ankle in the win over Tennessee on Oct. 24. Prior to the injury, Waddle caught 25 passes for 557 yards and four touchdowns and was the team’s top return man. Waddle is back at practice and has a chance to play on Monday night. Even if he doesn’t play a lot, Waddle’s all-around ability or potential decoy use could be a factor for Alabama.
Podcast: Previewing and Predicting the National Championship