Ohio State-Alabama: Three Questions for the College Football National Championship
Well, unfortunately, it's time for college football to come to an end. At least the FBS portion (the FCS begins in the spring). Ohio State and Alabama meet for the first time in a national championship game, and second time ever since 2014. The Tide rolled over Notre Dame to get here, while the Buckeyes silenced Dabo Swinney and the Clemson Tigers in an upset. With Alabama expected to win this one, there are three questions that came to mind when thinking about this matchup.
How healthy is Justin Fields?
Last year's playoff game provided Fields with motivation for the 2020 matchup, and he did not disappoint. In the biggest game of the Buckeyes season, their star quarterback threw for 385 yards and six touchdowns. It wasn't all smooth sailing for Fields, as the hit above sent him to the medical tent. Tigers linebacker James Skalski made a big hit on the Buckeyes quarterback, and replays showed that Skalski's helmet made contact with Fields' ribs.
While he came back and put up big numbers after the injury, questions about his health for this game certainly will come back. I'm sure there will be injections involved so they can numb the pain as much as possible for him, but the question will be how healthy his torso is no matter how well he plays. Ohio State needs a healthy Fields to have a chance against Alabama, but we may not know how close to 100% he was until later in his career.
Smith vs. Wade: a lopsided matchup?
First things first, what did you want Shaun Wade to say? Ohio State's cornerback is having a rough year, but he's still a talented cornerback who's also a competitor. He didn't say that he'd dominate DeVonta Smith, but rather he implied that he wanted to cover him. The internet reads into things too much, so it turned into a challenge out of nowhere. So now people are discussing this matchup with more emotion. Smith just one the Heisman Trophy as the first wide receiver to win it since Desmond Howard in 1991.
Wade's transition to outside corner hasn't been smooth, but it's not like he's worthless. Yes, he struggled against Clemson's Cornell Power (139 yards, two touchdowns) and faces a much tougher task in Smith (1,641 yards, 20 touchdowns on the season), but he'll compete with the Heisman winner. Wade's not the only player that will have the spotlight on him. Alabama has another Heisman finalist in quarterback Mac Jones (4,036 yards, 36 touchdowns), and a Heisman snub in running back Najee Harris (1,733 yards, 27 touchdowns). Oh, and there's this report that Jaylen Waddle might return. Waddle was considered at one point to be the best receiver on Alabama's roster, so getting him back would be huge. So the Wade versus Smith matchup is a big one, but it quickly becomes less important with all of the talent Ohio State must account for Monday.
What does a win mean for each program?
Alabama seems to be headed for yet another national championship under Nick Saban, so it seems like business as usual. For the Buckeyes, it puts Ryan Day on another level. So a win means more for Ohio State than it does for Alabama. It shows that Day can continue the success that Urban Meyer brought to Columbus, including winning national championships. He's already brought the talent there, but now he'd prove that he can turn that talent into a trophy. There is one concerning thing that a win for either program provides: the talent gap in college football.
Every year, it's the same teams in the College Football Playoff. While that's great that teams can recruit at a high level and win a bunch of championships, it's not good for the sport overall. Yes, if you get enough four and five star players on the roster, you should win championships. You have enough talent where it's inevitable at that point, but it's putting the sport in a bad spot. For the teams competing, their fans care about what's going on, but you lose viewership throughout the country. Playoff expansion is in the future, but something still needs to be done about the talent gap. There aren't many realistic solutions right now because we're talking about colleges, but the conversation needs to be started.
Teams like Cincinnati and Coastal Carolina had incredible seasons, ones which saw them win every regular season game but no chance of competing for a national championship. The College Football Playoff Committee already has issues of their own, but the sport as a whole needs to make changes. Alabama and Ohio State will be an entertaining matchup, but having the same matchups year in and year out hurts the product. Spice things up with different teams than the blue bloods, and college football can grow.