In case you hadn’t heard, the Buckeyes have a game to play tonight.
After dismantling heavily-favored Clemson by a final score of 49-28 in the semifinal round of the College Football Playoff on New Year’s Day, OSU will now line up against top-ranked Alabama in the National Championship, set for kickoff at 8 p.m.
For OSU head coach Ryan Day, the opportunity to compete tonight—especially considering the strange and often immensely frustrating conditions of this season—is not one he and Buckeyes players are taking for granted.
“When you think about that it kind of emphasizes the point of how chaotic this past three, four, five months have been. Some days you woke up, you didn’t know which direction you were going in. And certainly there was a time where we didn’t know if we we’re going to have a season; weren’t sure if we were going to restart a season,” Day said at yesterday’s press conference, while also praising the resolve of his OSU players. “I think yeah, which just goes to show you how strong our guys have been.”
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And while the Tigers in the College Football Playoff semifinals represented the biggest challenge the Buckeyes had encountered all season—by a wide margin—that bar will once again be raised. The unbeaten Crimson Tide has sliced through a murderer’s row of SEC opponents this year—in addition to fourth-ranked Notre Dame in the semifinal round—with relative ease.
And it’s no coincidence that Alabama also happens to be arguably the most talented team in college football. While the Tide traditionally got by on outstanding defensive play (which it still boasts) and an old school brand of run-first offense, after updating their offensive system in recent years to a more dynamic pass-heavy attack, the team has become even more formidable.
If OSU is going to win tonight, it will start with them controlling Alabama’s trio of offensive superstars. This includes quarterback Mac Jones, the 2021 Doak-Walker Award recipient Nagee Harris, and this year’s Heisman winner, DeVonta “Slim Reaper” Smith at wide receiver.
“This was an outstanding [2017 recruiting] class; these guys have competed at a high level. They’ve been great ambassadors for the University of Alabama, and I think they’ve made a significant impact on our team this year,” Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban said. “Hard to say where we’d be without them, but we’re certainly happy to have them with us.”
While the Buckeyes, with the help of red-hot Justin Fields and Trey Sermon, will likely put up their fair share of points (even against the Tide’s intimidating defense), the real question will be how OSU handles Alabama’s offense. With the departure of top draft picks Chase Young and Jeff Okudah to the NFL following last year’s season, the OSU pass rush and secondary have both struggled to replace these cornerstone players.
Will the Buckeyes claim their first title since the magical 2014 playoff run led by Cardale Jones, or will the Crimson Tide stiffen and grab their third National Championship in only six seasons? At this point, we won’t have to wait long to find out.