We've seen either the Ohio State Buckeyes or the Alabama Crimson Tide make it to five of the six College Football Playoff National Championship games since the inception of the format in 2014, and one of those two has appeared in 10 of the past 14 national title games gong back into the Bowl Championship Series era. But through all that success, the Crimson Tide and Buckeyes have never faced each other with the sport's ultimate title on the line. That will change Monday night when the two titans of college football square off for just the fifth time ever and battle for the 2021 CFP National Championship.
Though this matchup was in some ways predictable considering Ohio State and Alabama were ranked No. 2 and No. 3 in the first AP Top 25 of the season, the route for both programs to reach this game took some unforeseen twists. At one point, the Big Ten did not plan to play this fall, which would have eliminated the Buckeyes from participating in the CFP. Even once the league reversed course and decided to play, questions still abounded about whether Ohio State's six regular-season games were enough to warrant CFP consideration.
Ohio State's delayed start to the 2020 season, and a Clemson loss to Notre Dame on Nov. 7, opened the door for Alabama to ascend to No. 1 after a 6-0 start. By that point, an offense that entered the season with some question marks was proving to be one of the best in the country. The departures of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and premier receivers Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III cast doubt on whether this Crimson Tide team would return to the top of SEC after LSU's dominant 2019 run. But led by Heisman Trophy winning wide receiver Devonta Smith, Alabama answered those questions in resounding fashion by steamrolling through 12 opponents by an average margin of victory of 29.2 points to reach the national title game.
Now, the stage is set for what should be a memorable conclusion to a historic campaign. After the cancellation or postponement of more than 100 games disrupted the flow of the season, there is just one game remaining, and it's a matchup that's been a long time coming. These two have met three times before in bowl games, including in a classic CFP semifinal game on Jan. 1, 2015, that Ohio State won 42-35.
Never has there been this much at stake as two of the all-time great programs will finally face off for a national title as No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Ohio State meet with the national championship on the line Monday night just outside of Miami. Don't forget to follow Alabama vs. Ohio State live with score updates, analysis, highlights and more.
Alabama: An incredible offense featuring Smith, quarterback Mac Jones (a Heisman finalist) and star running back Najee Harris is playing behind offensive line that won the Joe Moore Award as the nation's best. That group, which led the country in average yards per play, may have yet another star available against Ohio State after Saban said Thursday that junior WR Jaylen Waddle will be a "game-day decision." Waddle has been out since injuring his ankle on the opening kickoff of Alabama's win over Tennessee on Oct. 24 and would add another lethal weapon to Alabama's offense if he can play. Waddle earned preseason first-team all-conference honors both as a receiver and a returner. He had already amassed 557 receiving yards -- averaging 22.3 yards per reception -- before his injury. Waddle averaged 24.4 yards on punt returns in 2019, has two career punt returns for a touchdown and a kickoff return for a touchdown. If he joins the Tide as yet another weapon, its defensive deficiencies may not matter on Monday.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes defense shut down Clemson's running game and succeeded in hassling Tigers' QB Trevor Lawrence in a 49-28 semifinal victory. But if you're picking a hero for Ohio State from that win, it was easily quarterback Justin Fields, who played through a crushing hit that got Clemson's James Skalski ejected in the first half. Fields tossed six touchdowns in the game while proving that, when dialed in, there is no moment too big for him. But Fields has been erratic at times this season, and there are some lingering questions about if he will be 100% healthy on Monday. Aside from Fields, the other player to watch for the Buckeyes is cornerback Shaun Wade. "You already know who I want to go up against at the end of the day," Wade told reporters this week in an apparent reference to his looming matchup with the Heisman Trophy winner. Wade was named the Big Ten's defensive back of the year, and if he can succeed in limiting Smith's production, it will go a long way toward helping Ohio State have a chance.
Game: 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship
Date: Monday, January 11 | Time: 8 p.m. ET
Location: Hard Rock Stadium -- Miami Gardens, Florida
TV: ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Alternate viewing options
- CFP Live -- ESPN2
- Skycast -- ESPNU
- Coaches film room -- ESPNEWS
- Alabama hometown radio -- SEC Network
- Ohio State hometown radio, Command Center, Datacenter, All 22 and more available on the ESPN App.