The Natty: Bama vs. Ohio State Prediction

Bama opened as a -8 favorite over Ohio State looking ahead to Monday’s CFP National Championship game. This morning, game day, they moved up to -9.

So obviously Bama is a big favorite. But does that mean they’re going to win? I’m going to outline my case for both teams and then make a prediction at the end.

9 Reasons Bama will win:
  1. They have the Heisman winner: It is no small feat to win the Heisman as a wide receiver. Devonta Smith is a very special football player. There’s no denying that. He won the Biletnikoff Award, too. And the AP Player of the year. And the Maxwell Award as the player of the year. I mean, what else can you really say about this dude? He’s the unanimous player of the year in college football. He has 105 catches, 1,641 yards and 20 TDs on the season. In the semifinal against Notre Dame, he had 130 of his team’s 297 receiving yards, and 3 of the team’s 4 TDs. Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade will have his hands full like never before covering Smith. Wade says he wants to go up against Smith, and you’ve gotta love the confidence. But nobody has been able to even contain Smith this season. Before the season, Wade was projected to be a first round pick, but his draft stock has taken a hit this year. His transition to outside corner hasn’t been the smoothest, and the wonky circumstances of the pandemic might have a lot to do with his inconsistent performance. But again: Wade is going to have his hands full big-time with Devonta Smith.
  2. They have a Heisman finalist at QB: Mac Jones finished 3rd in the Heisman voting. Jones won the Davey O’Brien Award as the nation’s top QB. Now, you can make the argument that Mac Jones is a system QB who has the easiest job in the country. He plays behind the best offensive line in the country and has the best weapons around him. But what Bama asks him to do, he does remarkably well.
  3. They have the guy who finished 5th in Heisman voting, RB Najee Harris. He also just won the Doak Walker award as the nation’s top running back. Najee Harris is an absolute monster. I’m sure we all saw him hurdle that Notre Dame defender and take off for like 60 yards downfield. The dude has 27 TDs this year. He runs for 6.1 YPC. He’s your typical Bama freighttrain running back built like a Bo Scarborough, Derrick Henry, Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy, etc. Ohio State bottled up Travis Etienne pretty damn well in the semifinal, but Najee Harris is a whole different animal.
  4. Nick Fucking Saban. He’s led Bama to National Championships in 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2017. Plus he won one at LSU in 2003. He’s undoubtedly the greatest coach of the modern era, and probably the greatest college football coach of all time. He’s already got a statue in Tuscaloosa. If he wins one more, they might make him governor the state. Honestly the entire South might just secede and make him the President of the whole country. He’s the best recruiter in college football today, and he’s the best motivator, too. Refs are terrified of him. Basically everybody’s terrified of him. There’s really not much else to say; it’s Nick Fucking Saban.
  5. They might get Jaylen Waddle back: We don’t know if he’s going to play yet, but if he plays then look out. People have somewhat forgotten about Waddle given how great Devonta Smith has been, but there’s still a chance Waddle goes higher in the 2021 Draft than Smith. If Bama has both Smith and Waddle, they might be completely unstoppable on offense. It’s just way too much speed and high-end talent. It’ll overwhelm the Ohio State secondary.
  6. Bama has more talent: This applies to every other program in the country. Bama players basically swept every major award on Thursday night. But if that’s not enough for you, let’s go to the recruiting rankings of every class since 2016, the last group of guys who can still play in this game. Bama was #1 in 2016. They were #1 in 2017. They slipped in 2018 and only managed to pull in the #5 class in the nation, shame on them. But Saban rebounded and pulled in the #1 class in 2019. And he got the #2 class in 2020. 247Sports assigns scores to each recruiting class. Bama’s recruiting class scores over the past 5 years (for reference, 300+ is outstanding, usually there’s only 2-3 teams max above 300 in a given year): 302.04, 323.9, 289.9, 317.5, 310.2. That’s a combined score of 1,543.6, or an average 308.8 per year over the past five years. That’s the best in the nation. Saban’s recruiting greatness goes all the way back to 2007 when he first arrived in Tuscaloosa. There is no team in the nation with more top-level talent than Alabama. Ohio State has elite talent, but not as much as Alabama has. It matters.
  7. Bama has the Outland Trophy Winner, Alex Leatherwood. They also have the Rimington Trophy winner (top center in the nation), Landon Dickerson, but he’s done for the year with an injury. So while Ohio State’s defensive line dominated against Clemson, they’re in for a whole ‘nother situation against Bama’s offensive line which features the nation’s top interior lineman. Ohio State will not be able to push Bama around like they did Clemson.
  8. Ohio State is Having COVID Troubles: According to Dan Patrick last Thursday, Ohio State was “very close to the availability limit” just four days ahead of the National Championship game. We don’t yet know which players are going to be out of the game, as they’ve only confirmed backup RB Miyan Williams is out, but nobody else. We’ll find out close to kickoff. If Ohio State’s defense gets ravaged by Covid, they’re in big trouble. But regardless, Ohio State is dealing with Covid and Bama isn’t. That’s a real advantage for Alabama.
  9. Patrick Surtain II: As if all that wasn’t enough, guess who has the top-rated cornerback in the 2021 NFL Draft? Bama. Patrick Surtain II is Bama’s top corner, and he’ll probably be on Chris Olave Monday night. Surtain is probably the top cornerback in college football this season. So all of Ohio State’s receivers will have to step up because one of them is going to be getting clamped by Surtain on every play. Surtain did get burned once against Florida, but this dude is going to be a problem for Ohio State’s offense.
9 Reasons Ohio State will win:
  1. Bama isn’t as dominant as people think: The #2 team in the SEC, Florida, just got absolutely dogwalked by Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl 55-20. Sure, Trask was missing his top four pass catchers including Kyle Pitts, but Florida still lost by 35. C’mon. Florida also lost to LSU this year, and LSU was terrible this season. Bama barely beat that Florida team in the SEC Championship. Final score was 52-46 and Kyle Trask threw for 408 on the Bama defense. Kadarius Toney burned that Bama defense deep several times. Surtain even got burned once for a long tuddy. In that game, Trask often had protection in the pocket. This year’s Bama defense is not as scary as those Nick Saban typically rolls out. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still great and full of talent, but it’s definitely exploitable.
  2. The SEC is weak this year: The SEC low-key sucks these days outside of Bama. Yeah, I said it. As I went over above, Florida got blasted by Oklahoma in the bowl game. Who is good in the SEC outside of Bama? Georgia? They were lucky to beat Cincinnati in the Peach Bowl. I guess maybe Texas A&M is pretty good. They won fairly easily against North Carolina in the Orange Bowl. But A&M is not an elite team. Beating North Carolina doesn’t make you elite. There’s a lot of bad programs in the SEC right now. Vandy, for one. Arkansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, both the Mississippi teams. I know Mike Leach just took over in Starkville, but Mississippi State was bad this year. Missouri is weak. Auburn got completely dominated by Northwestern in the Citrus Bowl, 35-19. None of this means Bama is weak, because they’re not. But my point here is that their dominance over the SEC this year was not as impressive as people are saying.
  3. Ohio State did better against Clemson than Bama did against Notre Dame: Whenever two elite teams play, the way to determine who won the battle at the line of scrimmage (outside of the eye test) is to look at net rushing yards. If you can run on a team and stop them from running on you, you are dominating the line of scrimmage. Ohio State had an incredible +210 net rushing yards against Clemson. Bama was +1 against Notre Dame. Plus one yard. Ohio State beat Clemson by 21, while Bama beat ND by 17. But in the ACC Championship, we saw Clemson beat Notre Dame 34-10. So we know Clemson is way better than Notre Dame. And Ohio State was more dominant against Clemson than Bama was against Notre Dame. I hate getting into these complex transitive property messes, but such is the nature of college football. Past results don’t guarantee future performance, but the simple fact is that Clemson is a lot better than Notre Dame, and Ohio State was more dominant against Clemson than Bama was against Notre Dame. This matters.
  4. Ryan Day is an offensive genius: It’s confirmed. He just won a chess match against Brent Venables, one of the best defensive coordinators in college football history. Even though 2019, his first season as Ohio State head coach, was incredibly successful, there was still a little doubt as to whether he was truly legit, because he inherited a very loaded roster from Urban Meyer. But this year proved that Ryan Day is the real deal. It’s cemented now. And he just said he has no interest in going to the NFL to coach, so Ohio State fans can stop worrying. Ohio State’s 639 yards of total offense gained was the 3rd most Clemson has ever allowed in the history of their program. Not only is Ryan Day an offensive genius, but the dude is a master motivator. If you ever watch any videos of his speeches to the team, the man just makes you want to run through a brick wall. He’s got juice. He’s got fire. He’s going to have his guys playing with a chip on their shoulder and playing angry.
  5. Ohio State Has the Better QB: Okay, I get that Mac Jones finished 3rd in the Heisman voting while Justin Fields finished 7th, but does anyone really believe Mac Jones is a better QB than Fields? Not a single NFL draft scout does. And had Fields been able to play a full season, he would’ve probably been a Heisman finalist, too. He might’ve even won it. If Fields is playing at anywhere close to full health, he’s going to be the better QB in the game. Don’t overlook the fact that Ohio State is better at the most important position on the field. I know it’s not a widely-held opinion, but in my view Justin Fields is a much better QB than Mac Jones. As I said above, I think Mac Jones is a system QB with the easiest job in America. He’s got the best offensive line, the best weapons and the best coach. I think Mac Jones is basically the same guy as all of Bama’s whiteboy QBs: Greg McElroy, AJ McCarron, Jake Coker. The main difference is that Bama is way more passing-focused now, and so their QBs are now putting up way bigger numbers than when Bama was a run-first offense that only asked its QBs to be game managers. I think when it really becomes time to put up or shut up, Justin Fields is the better QB. In a situation where Mac Jones actually has to make plays to win the game, and where his team is not simply overwhelming the opponent with superior talent, can Mac Jones actually be a difference-maker? I just don’t see Mac Jones as that type of QB. He’s used to throwing to open receivers, handing off to the best running back and playing with a huge lead. Against Ohio State, Mac Jones is going to actually have to make plays. I don’t know that there’s even been one game this season where Bama had to lean on Mac Jones in a do-or-die situation; where they asked Mac Jones to be the one to win them the game. I just have way more trust in Justin Fields’ ability to be a difference-maker and to be a playmaker. I trust Justin Fields more in a shootout, and I think this game will be a shootout.
  6. If Bama’s Offense is Unstoppable, then Why Did Notre Dame Hold them to 31? I know Bama was up 28-7 in the third quarter, but they only netted +1 rushing yard against Notre Dame. That indicates Notre Dame’s offensive and defensive lines held up fairly well against Bama. That was a game we’d expect Bama to be running heavily, but Notre Dame actually wasn’t that bad running the ball. Maybe Bama just didn’t take Notre Dame seriously, I don’t know. But I thought Bama would’ve been a bit more dominant against Notre Dame.
  7. Bama struggles against QBs who can run: It’s a consistent theme with Bama over the past decade or so. Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel, Cardale Jones, DeShaun Watson, Trevor Lawrence–these are all the QBs who got big wins over Alabama, and the one thing they all have in common is that they’re dual threat QBs. They can beat you with their legs. Joe Burrow was not known as a runner, but he’s very athletic and in the 2019 Bama-LSU game, he ran for 64 yards against the Tide defense. You need to have a QB that can scramble when the pocket breaks down and pick up first downs with his legs in order to beat Bama. Because the pocket will break down. Even Ian Book was able to extend plays with his legs in the semifinal game and wound up rushing for 55 yards. Justin Fields is a great running QB and will be able to keep drives alive with his feet tonight.
  8. Ohio State is close to Bama’s level, talent-wise: Remember how we went over all of Bama’s recruiting classes above? Bama’s past 5 recruiting classes have been ranked: 1, 1, 5, 1, 2. But over the past decade, Ohio State has been one of the only schools in the country (the other being Georgia) that recruits at close to the same level as Bama. Ohio State’s recruiting class ranks since 2016: 4, 2, 2, 14, 5. Ohio State’s last 5 recruiting classes combined scores come out to 1,474.5, or an average of 294.9. So they’re a bit below Bama, and mainly because that 2019 class only ranked 14th in the country. I think that had a lot to do with the uncertainty created by Urban Meyer’s retirement in late 2018, as Ohio State’s class that year was only 17 guys instead of the usual 24-26. These class scores are based off the combined scores of all the recruits in your class, so if you pull in a class with a smaller-than-usual number of players, you’re going to get a lower score. The good news for Ohio State’s 2019 class is that while they only had 17 dudes, the average score of each of those recruits was 91.87, which was good for third-best in the country. But Ohio State recruiting has gotten back to elite-status, improving to #5 in 2020 and now for 2021 they’re #2 in the nation once again. Over the past 5 years, Ohio State has been the third-best recruiting program behind Bama and Georgia. Bama’s average class over the past 5 years has been 308.8, Georgia’s has been 305.7 and Ohio State’s has been 294.9. Coming in 4th place is LSU with an average of 283.9. For reference, Clemson doesn’t even rank in the top 5 with an average of 275.8. And yet Clemson still beats Bama regularly even though they have inferior talent (at least according to 247Sports). My point here is that yes, Bama has superior talent to Ohio State, but Ohio State is one of the few teams in the nation in Bama’s ballpark in terms of talent. And even though Georgia has talent nearly on par with Bama’s, it hasn’t done them much good. Georgia hasn’t beaten Alabama since 2007. That’s a true statement. It feels like it’s been such a big rivalry, right? Nope. Anyway, my point is, talent matters a ton in college football, but it’s not the be-all, end-all. Texas routinely pulls in top-10 recruiting classes, some years even top-3, and they’re no better than Iowa State. Ohio State has enough NFL-level talent to beat Bama. They did it once before six years ago. Talent usually wins out, but not always.
  9. Bama Over-Hyped Once Again? Remember 2018, when Bama was supposedly the “greatest offense of all time”? They got boat-raced by Clemson 44-16 in the Championship. The year before that, they needed Tua to come in for Hurts at halftime and work some magic in order to beat Georgia in OT of the National Championship. In 2016, Alabama was one of the most hyped-up teams in college football history but wound up falling to Clemson 35-31 in the National Championship. And in the 2015 National Championship, Alabama and Clemson were tied at 24 with 10 minutes to play, and Bama needed a surprise onside kick plus a kickoff return touchdown to win that game. Every year Bama comes in to the National Championship game with the media hyping them up as this unstoppable juggernaut, the greatest team ever assembled, “Could they beat the Jaguars?”, etc. etc. And every year they show that they’re mortal. They’re very fortunate to have won those two CFP National Titles, because they could easily be 0-4 in Championship games since the start of the CFP. Bama was a lot more dominant under the old BCS system, but with the CFP they’ve been on a more level playing field with the other top teams. History shows that Bama usually comes back down to earth when they finally meet a team with similar talent levels to their own. They have not played a team of Ohio State’s caliber this season, and they could be in for a wakeup call tonight.

I feel like an idiot picking against Alabama, but there’s just something about this Ohio State team. I’m taking the Buckeyes to win in an upset 45-41. I didn’t write about Trey Sermon above but the dude is an absolute truck. He’s got over 500 yards in his past two games, and I think he’ll be able to move the ball against Bama.

This game will come down to which team can get one or two big stops, because there’s going to be a lot of scoring. Whichever team is unable to keep pace is going to lose. I think Ohio State will force a turnover in the second half that will decide the game.

UPDATE: Ohio State will be without some key players for the game. This news just came through an hour before kickoff:

These are pretty big losses for the Buckeyes. Those two guys on the D-Line were huge in their win over Clemson, and obviously it’s a big blow not to have a kicker.

I think these absences are enough for me to change my outlook on the game, and I think Alabama is probably going to win now. But screw it. I’m sticking to my guns. Ohio against the world.

The last time Ohio State was missing some key players going into a huge matchup with Alabama? 2014. Won the Natty with a third string QB. Let’s do this.

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