No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Ohio State will go head-to-head on Monday night at Hard Rock Stadium in the College Football Playoff National Championship -- a game which has the potential to be one of the most intriguing matchups we've seen in the title game recent memory. The Crimson Tide ran roughshod through the SEC en route to the conference title, while the undefeated Buckeyes needed only six games to claim their conference crown and earn a berth in the CFP.
That was where things got really interesting. Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields exploded vs. No. 2 Clemson with 385 yards passing and six touchdown tosses despite suffering a rib injury late in the second quarter that had the junior wincing in pain throughout the second half. Speaking of explosions, running back Trey Sermon has rushed for 636 yards and four touchdowns over the last three games, and he has benefitted from an offensive line that has come of age as the Buckeyes found their offensive identity. The defense showed out against the Tigers, which was the most important development of the Sugar Bowl. Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence was harassed all night, including up the middle -- a quarterback's worst nightmare.
The big story in Columbus, Ohio, over the last week has involved player availability. All eyes have been on Fields' ribs, and coach Ryan Day insists that his superstar will be ready to go on Monday night. The Buckeyes have also been dealing with a COVID-19 issue that has brought up the possibility of delaying the game until Jan. 18.
Alabama, led by Heisman Trophy-winning wide receiver DeVonta Smith and star quarterback Mac Jones, had no issue with No. 4 Notre Dame in the Rose Bowl. The offense racked up 7.95 yards per play thanks to brilliant play-calling from offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. His ability to scheme to get his playmakers -- including running back Najee Harris -- the ball in space has been stellar all season no matter what the opposing defense is giving them. There might be a small concern that Sarkisian's new role as Texas coach could become a distraction, but Alabama coach Nick Saban has plenty of experience preparing for big games with assistants who are set for bigger roles elsewhere.
Ohio State hasn't been in this position since 2014, when it knocked off Alabama in the Sugar Bowl semifinal, 42-35. It was the first year of the College Football Playoff and led to the Buckeyes lone championship of the era when they beat Oregon for the national title. Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide keep on rolling. Despite missing the playoff last season, Alabama has made the championship game five times in the last six years.
Let's take a closer look at how you can attack every angle available for this game. Follow Alabama vs. Ohio State live as the 2021 CFP National Championship is on the line in Miami Gardens, Florida. Check out our viewer's guide for how to watch the national title game live.
Alabama vs. Ohio State predictions, picks
Take the points, but you won't need them. Ohio State will win this one outright. The Buckeyes' front seven played lights out against Clemson, especially up the middle. That will prove costly to an Alabama offensive line that is missing star center and Rimington Award winner Landon Dickerson. On the other side of the ball, the Buckeyes' offensive line found its stride late in the season which, under normal circumstances, would be the middle of a 12-game schedule. That's what is important here. How many teams find their stride midway through a normal schedule? Tons. It happens every year. That's essentially where the Buckeyes are right now. It'll be a line of scrimmage game. Ohio State will win more of those battles than Alabama, leading to a hard fought win in which the under hits. Pick: Ohio State +8 | Ohio State 35, Alabama 31 -- Barrett Sallee
Will the Buckeyes be missing a number of key starters? And if so, what positions will be affected? It's vital information to have when handicapping a game, but it's also important to remember that this isn't the first time Ohio State has dealt with such issues. Even last week against Clemson, it was Ohio State without a few players that still managed to win convincingly. Still, even as good as Clemson may be, Alabama is a different case entirely. Assuming large chunks of the roster aren't missing, this is an Ohio State team capable of giving Alabama problems. The Crimson Tide have been an absolute juggernaut all season. Their offense is led by three players who finished in the top five of Heisman Trophy voting with the winner in wide receiver DeVonta Smith as well as quarterback Mac Jones and running back Najee Harris. They also have one of the best offensive lines in the country, and oh yeah, they might get WR Jaylen Waddle back this week as well. The emergence of Oklahoma transfer Trey Sermon (636 yards rushing and four touchdowns in the last three games) has added another dimension to the Ohio State offense and takes a lot of the load off Justin Fields' shoulders. The Buckeyes should be able to move the ball and score on this Alabama defense. This is why, with the information available now, the Buckeyes cover the spread. Pick: Ohio State +8 | Alabama 38-31 -- Tom Fornelli
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To beat Alabama you have to BE Alabama. That is, have a stable of quick-strike weapons that can outscore anyone. It worked for LSU last year with the third-worst defense ever for a national champion. It has worked better than ever for Alabama. The Buckeyes have the weapons to win a shootout. Durable tailback? Check (Trey Sermon). High-flying receivers? Check (Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson). Star quarterback? Check (Justin Fields). The magic number to win Monday is at least 40 points. Both teams will get there. Alabama will hang on. Barely. Pick: Ohio State +8 | Alabama 48, Ohio State 42 -- Dennis Dodd
Alabama wins this game more often than not, and the style of its wins this year -- creating an advantage early with a devastating first punch -- has me thinking it will be the Tide defending a lead for much of the second half. So this pick comes down to whether Alabama can keep the backdoor closed, and my hunch is the lessons learned from Florida's late push in the SEC Championship Game have the Tide better prepared for whatever Justin Fields and the potent Buckeyes offense present as their final challenge late in the game. I think the spread is a bigger sweat than the game, and Alabama wins a classic in wire-to-wire fashion. Pick: Alabama -8 | Alabama 48, Ohio State 35 -- Chip Patterson
Blowing out Clemson was impressive, and admittedly, unexpected. For all the controversy over the number of games it played, Ohio State proved it not only belonged in the playoff but that it deserves a shot at Alabama. The Buckeyes have the speed and toughness to keep up with Alabama's offense -- but can they make the necessary stops? Alabama has been the best team all season long. They have the best offensive players and that will prevail -- just not before the Buckeyes cover the eight points. Pick: Ohio State +8 | Alabama 38, Ohio State 31 -- Ben Kercheval
Alabama has been the best team in college football all season, and I have no reason to believe the Crimson Tide won't be at the end of Monday night as well. Alabama is well suited to hit Ohio State where it is weakest -- in the secondary -- whether Jaylen Waddle can come back or not. A limited Justin Fields, especially in the running game, makes it hard for the Buckeyes to keep up. Pick: Alabama -8 | Alabama 37, Ohio State 27 -- Jerry Palm
It's difficult to pick against Alabama as a single-digit favorite when its has only won by that few points once this season. Yes, Ohio State is likely the best team Bama has played, but it has not faced an offense like this despite bludgeoning Clemson in the semifinal. This should be a high-scoring game, but I think the difference comes on the ground where the Tide have a few more answers for Trey Sermon than the Buckeyes do for Najee Harris. If Alabama can run the ball consistently, it will limit Ohio State's opportunities to hit on the big play, which Clemson could not. Expect an exciting, competitive national title game that the Tide cover early in the fourth quarter. Be aware, however: Ohio State is 7-0 since 2009 as an underdog of seven points or more. I am picking against this trend, but it is one worth consideration. Pick: Alabama -8 | Alabama 41, Ohio State 31 -- Adam Silverstein
I expect this game to be every bit the shootout for which some are hoping. Justin Fields and the Ohio State offense should pick up near where they left off in the win over Clemson and do some damage against that Tide secondary. In the end, however, Heisman winner DeVonta Smith, Mac Jones and this Alabama offense get the final leg up on the Buckeyes late to put a cap on what might be an instant classic. Pick: Ohio State +8 | Alabama 42, Ohio State 35 -- Jack Crosby
Two years ago, I picked Alabama to smoke Clemson as the college football world continued to play catch up with Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide. Clemson went on to smoke Alabama, 44-16. It typically takes me a while to learn a lesson, so I'm going back to the well in this one. The Alabama offense will return to the flying death machine it has been all season and Ohio State will not be able to keep up. The Crimson Tide defense will make enough stops to makes this one uncompetitive by the fourth quarter. Pick: Alabama -8 | Alabama 45, Ohio State 21 -- Brandon Wise
So who will win Alabama vs. Ohio State in the 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship, and which side of the spread has all the value? Visit SportsLine now to see which side you need to jump on, all from the model on a 56-36 roll on top-rated college football picks.