Alabama and Ohio State looked thoroughly dominant in dispatching semifinal foes Notre Dame and Clemson, respectively, and will now face off in a heavyweight battle that has the potential to be one for the ages. Now that the stage is set between the two programs that have consistently recruited better than anyone in the country, the game will likely be decided on a few key matchups that will have NFL scouts drooling.
Ohio St. WR Chris Olave vs. Alabama CB Patrick Surtain II
This might be the most important matchup of the game. Olave missed the Big Ten Championship against Northwestern due to COVID protocols, and the Buckeyes’ passing attack looked downright pedestrian. The 6’2”, 202 lb. Surtain is a lock to be chosen early in the first round of the NFL Draft in April and hasn’t given up much, but he was burned deep once by both Tennessee and Florida. Olave easily led Ohio State receivers in the Sugar Bowl with 132 yards on six catches, and got behind the defense for a 55 yard touchdown. He, too, is expected to declare for the draft and has a legitimate chance at going in the first round. A big performance against Surtain would raise his stock considerably.
Alabama WR Devonta Smith vs. Ohio St. CB Shaun Wade
The college football world knows DeVonta Smith at this point. Already the recipient of the AP College Football Player of the Year award, he is the odds on favorite to win the Heisman. The Notre Dame game was just more of the same for Smith. He compiled 130 yards on seven grabs and three touchdowns, and was stopped only by Nick Saban’s desire to milk the clock in the second half. He will undoubtedly get plenty of reps against Wade, a fellow first team All-American who is getting some first round hype in his own right. The 6’1” 195 lb. Wade is generally projected as a slot corner in the NFL, so playing against a guy with Smith’s change of direction and route-running ability might make or break his draft status.
Ohio St. OG Wyatt Davis vs. Alabama DT Christian Barmore
The 6’4”, 315 lb. Davis suffered an injury scare in the Sugar Bowl when he went down clutching his knee and had to be helped off the field, but he was able to reenter the game and should be available against Alabama. He is a first team All-American and another first round lock. Barmore has been somewhat mercurial this season, but he shows flashes of elite potential and makes some huge plays, including a sack of Ian Book in the Rose Bowl. He lines up often in the 4i technique that should set up this battle in the trenches.
Alabama QB Mac Jones vs. Ohio St. QB Justin Fields, and Alabama RB Najee Harris vs. Ohio St. RB Trey Sermon
OK, these aren’t matchups in the traditional sense, but the storylines here write themselves. Former five-star Fields was penciled in as the #2 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft coming into the season, and after his performance in the Sugar Bowl that pecking order might need some reconsideration. He is physically imposing, has a howitzer for an arm and is a dynamic runner. Like many big armed passers, the ball has been known to get away from him on occasion and the Tide secondary will need to be ready to take advantage if it does, but Fields played about as well as one can in the Sugar Bowl.
On the other side, of course, you have the Cinderella story of Mac Jones, who came to Alabama without the fanfare and doesn’t possess the physical gifts of Fields. Still, Jones has played his way into first round consideration. He has been masterful in distributing the ball accurately to his bevy of playmakers and is currently on pace to break the all-time passer rating record set by Joe Burrow just last season.
As far as the running backs, both Harris and Sermon set records in their respective conference championship games, and watching the two of them trade blows is going to be a blast. Sermon had a successful career at Oklahoma before coming to Ohio State as a grad transfer and has blown up late in the season, with 524 yards on 60 carries in the past two games to go with 65 receiving yards. Harris scored a whopping five TDs vs. Florida, and made one of the highlights of the year with this run vs. Notre Dame.
Both of these backs bring the entire package: size, speed, power, vision, and the ability to catch out of the backfield. They will likely put on a show.
This is hardly an exhaustive list of the matchups that will decide the outcome, but the star power is undeniable. As a fan, all you can ask for is to have the two best teams play on the biggest stage. That’s what we’ve got, and it should be a classic.