The Ohio State Buckeyes are just days away from competing in the national title game against the Alabama Crimson Tide. While much of this season has been about gearing up for revenge against Clemson in the College Football Playoff, that goal has already been thoroughly accomplished, and now the sport’s ultimate trophy awaits.
Nick Saban’s roster is filled to the brim with elite talent, and has been the team that many have pegged from the jump as this year’s likely National Champions. According to the 247Sports Talent Composite, the Tide actually have the second-most talented roster in the country, behind only Georgia and just ahead of Ohio State. Interestingly enough, the Buckeyes actually have more five-star prospects on their team (14 for OSU compared to 12 for Bama), but obviously not all of them are active starters at either school.
While I tried to avoid the big stars when discussing players to watch on Clemson’s roster, it is impossible to do so when you look at this Alabama offense...
Offensive Player to Watch: DeVonta Smith
I’m sure you are all very stunned to learn that you should be on the lookout for star wide receiver DeVonta Smith, but he is just too damn good not be the highlight on the offensive side of the ball for the Crimson Tide. This year’s Heisman Trophy winner — the first wideout to win the award since Desmond Howard in 1991 — really took center stage this season, but the Louisiana native was making big plays far before he became a household name in 2020.
You may not remember it, but it was actually Smith who hauled in the game-winning touchdown pass from Tua Tagovailoa in overtime to defeat Georgia in the national title game at the end of the 2017 season. He was much deeper on the depth chart back then, playing behind guys like Jerry Jeudy, Calvin Ridley and Henry Ruggs, but that 41-yard walk-off score in the biggest game of the year was a precursor to what has become an incredible career for Smith in Tuscaloosa.
After an impressive junior campaign that saw him catch 68 passes for over 1,200 yards and 14 TDs in 2019, Smith followed that up this year with an even more profound 105 receptions for over 1,600 yards and 20 TDs. At 6-foot-1, 175-pounds, the senior is truly one of the greatest athletes in the sport. As one of college football’s top deep threats, Smith’s combination of speed, strength, and intelligence allows him to beat you both after the catch and burn you over the top. Just a few short days ago I wrote about how you need elite WRs to win titles these days, and Smith certainly fits that bill.
Of course, Alabama did finish with three different Heisman finalists, including quarterback Mac Jones and running back Najee Harris. Jones has had a fantastic year, throwing for over 4,000 yards with 36 TDs and just four picks. He has the benefit of being surrounding by phenomenal talent, but has done a great job of bringing it all together and making the right plays in the right situations. Harris has been incredibly solid in his own right, rushing for nearly 1,400 yards with 27 total TDs. Much like Ohio State, the Tide’s balanced attack makes them tough to defend.
Defensive Player to Watch: Christian Barmore
Alabama caught a lot of flack earlier in the year for their lackluster defense. It was tough to argue against the critics at the time, as the Tide went through a three-game stretch against Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Georgia wherein they allowed over 400 yards of offense per game — highlighted by a 647-yard day by the Rebels. However, the unit improved greatly as the season went on, allowing over 400 yards in just one game the rest of the season (the SEC title game against Florida).
A big reason for Alabama’s success on that side of the ball has been the play of its defensive line, which has been led by DL Christian Barmore. The sophomore has had a very strong season for the Tide, registering seven sacks to go along with 7.5 tackles for loss, three pass breakups and three forced fumbles. He was especially dominant towards the end of the year, tallying four sacks in the team’s final four games including one against Notre Dame in the Rose Bowl. The 6-foot-5, 310-pound pass-rusher has a very high motor and seems to have a nose for the ball, making him a tough assignment for opposing lines.
Bama has playmakers at every level of the defense. Linebacker Christian Harris leads the team with 73 tackles to go along with 4.5 sacks and a pick, and he’s followed right behind in that unit by Dylan Moses’ 70 tackles. Safety Jordan Battle — a former OSU commit — has been strong at the back end, while the obvious star in the secondary is future first-round NFL Draft pick Patrick Surtain II. The Crimson Tide aren't as strong defensively on paper as Clemson was, but they will certainly not make life easy for Justin Fields and company.