Under intense scrutiny over their inclusion into the College Football Playoff, the No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes summoned an all-time performance from quarterback Justin Fields to crush Clemson 49-28 in the Sugar Bowl semifinal. Now the Buckeyes will stare into the eyes of the final boss as they enter Monday’s national championship game against the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide as nine-point underdogs.
OSU’s 2020 enters the title game ranked No. 2 in SP+ in spite of a jagged, start-stop season that was impacted by COVID-19. The Bucks were only able to get seven games in throughout the 2020 season and had numerous stretches where they’d go two weeks in between games. Fields’ insane accuracy really drove Ohio State’s offense through the first three games of the season as he completed over 80 percent of his passes in each contest. His low points came in performances against Indiana and Northwestern, the former where he threw three interceptions and the latter where he only completed 44 percent of his passes for 114 yards.
Ohio State did see the unexpected emergence of an important X-factor in Trey Sermon late in the season, who rushed for 331 yards against the Wildcats in the Big Ten Championship game before supplementing Fields’ monster game against Clemson with 193 yards and a touchdown of his own.
The Bucks’ defense, meanwhile, boasts the No. 7 unit per SP+ and while teams have been able to somewhat move the chains on them per success rate stats, they’ve made it up with takeaways. Ohio State’s defense has forced 18 turnovers through seven games, 11 of them being fumbles.
Ohio State’s path to covering as a nine-point spread, simply put, is keeping pace with Alabama offensively the same way Florida did in the SEC Championship game. Justin Fields was in agony from the rib shot he took in the semifinal but he still managed to put together a legendary 385 yard, six touchdown performance to vault his team to the title game. If he can somewhat recreate that, get added help from the rising Sermon and have his defense get him the ball back with at least one takeaway, the Buckeyes will be in business and make this a tight one.