I’ll be honest. I’m amazed it took 6 years.

I thought that when Alabama and Ohio State faced off in the 2014 Sugar Bowl semifinal that we were about to embark on a fantastic national rivalry with a pair of blue bloods. Alabama got a national rival, but it was not Ohio State. It was Clemson — which then got 4 Playoff matchups with the Crimson Tide while the Buckeyes spent the next 5 seasons unable to get over the semifinal hump.

But now, we have a unique, long overdue matchup. Ohio State is the only team during the Playoff era that has a winning record against Alabama. Granted, it was just 1 game.

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Still, 6 years have gone by. Nick Saban had to wait longer than anyone would’ve expected for another crack at the Buckeyes.

Let’s dig into it with some final thoughts:

This Jaylen Waddle thing feels like Kyle Schwarber’s 2016 World Series return

So tell me who this sounds like:

  • Suffered what appeared to be a devastating season-ending injury
  • Got medically cleared to practice during the postseason
  • Surprisingly returned for the championship
  • Provided massive emotional lift even at less than 100%

That was Schwarber in the 2016 World Series for my beloved Chicago Cubs, and it’s starting to feel like Waddle for Alabama in the 2020 title game for Alabama.

In the same way that Schwarber didn’t have the lower-body strength to hit bombs, Waddle post-ankle surgery might not have the speed to run away from a defensive backfield like we’re used to seeing. But Schwarber still hit .412 and drove in 2 runs during the World Series. That’d be like Waddle still posting 100 receiving yards with some key 3rd-down conversions.

Again, I realized how absurd that sounds considering he’s roughly 2 1/2 months removed from a serious injury. Nobody will fault Waddle if he tests out his ankle and realizes that he’d be putting himself and his team in serious jeopardy by going out there.

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But I can’t help but wonder if we’re about to see something remarkable from the Alabama receiver.

Is Ryan Day the No. 3 coach in the sport?

I’ve been reluctant to rank Day among the top 5 coaches in the sport because he’s only in Year 2. Yes, he was outstanding as an offensive coordinator during Dwayne Haskins’ historic 2018 season. Day’s 2 years with Justin Fields have been nothing short of remarkable. The Georgia transfer has been a perfect fit in Day’s offense. That’s not up for debate.

What’s more interesting is if Day is already the No. 3 coach in college football behind Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney. There’s absolutely a case to be made for that, win or lose on Monday night.

Let’s just look at his Playoff accomplishments so far among active head coaches:

PLAYOFF APPEARANCES (only active coaches):

  • Nick Saban (Alabama), 6
  • Dabo Swinney (Clemson), 6
  • Lincoln Riley (Oklahoma), 3
  • Ryan Day (Ohio State), 2
  • Brian Kelly (Notre Dame), 2
  • Ed Orgeron (LSU), 1
  • Kirby Smart (Georgia), 1
  • Jimbo Fisher (Florida State/Texas A&M), 1

PLAYOFF VICTORIES (only active coaches):

  • Nick Saban (Alabama), 7
  • Dabo Swinney (Clemson), 6
  • Ed Orgeron (LSU), 2
  • Ryan Day (Ohio State), 1
  • Kirby Smart (Georgia), 1

Yeah, that’s pretty telling that Orgeron is the only active non-Saban/Swinney coach with multiple Playoff victories. Day can join that club if he win Monday night, which would make his status as the No. 3 coach in the sport all but a lock.

Even if Day’s team gets walloped, he would still be 23-2 (his lone losses being to Swinney and Saban) with a perfect conference record as a head coach. That’s more impressive than Riley, who got blown out in 2 of his 3 Playoff games (Oklahoma was down 28-0 to Alabama and played that entire game from behind). And while I think Kelly’s success at Notre Dame is too often overshadowed by his struggles against the sport’s elite, he hasn’t had 2 teams as good as either of Day’s.

Maybe the only thing working against Day is the fact that he hasn’t had to sustain the Urban Meyer level of recruiting just yet. His first full cycle was certainly reminiscent of Meyer’s, but keeping that pace for 5-plus years is easier said than done, even at Ohio State.

Still, think about how impressed we’d be with Day if he beat Swinney AND Saban in Playoff games en route to a national title. That’d be worthy of some serious praise.

I get what Shaun Wade is doing but … come on, man.

Did you see what the Ohio State defensive back said in regards to wanting to face Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith?

Look. Some see a quote like that and think “well, what’s he supposed to say? Of course he wants to compete.”

Yep. He should.

But there’s some awareness lacking here. Wade is part of what has to be the worst secondary to ever play in a national championship. The Buckeyes rank No. 116 against the pass. Despite the fact that they won the game comfortably, the Buckeyes got torched against Clemson for 400 passing yards. When Ohio State doesn’t get pressure with its front 7, it’s ugly. On the broadcast during the semifinal game, we learned that Clemson coaches told Kirk Herbstreit that they wanted to attack Wade because of how big of a cushion he played with.

Smith, as I mentioned, won that trophy. As in, the Heisman Trophy. You know, the trophy that hadn’t been won by a wide receiver in 29 years. Wade, meanwhile, has struggled immensely defending wideouts on the outside. When he isn’t guarding receivers in the slot like he was in 2019, it’s not pretty.

This feels like a recipe for Smith to go bananas against the Ohio State secondary.

Here’s what Wade should have said in regards to Smith:

“He’s an incredible player. The guy jumps out when you turn on the film. We have to find ways to contain him or else he can take over.”

That’s it. That’s all that had to be said instead of saying “you already know who I want to go up against.”

If I’m Smith, you know what I’m thinking to myself?

“You already know who I want to go up against.”

Patrick Surtain vs. Chris Olave/Garrett Wilson should be awesome

I broke down a lot of things for this game this week, and there are a ton of great head-to-head battles with these teams, who have a lot of similarities.

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Surtain against the Olave/Wilson combination is fantastic on a variety of fronts. Surtain has been the All-American leader of a mostly good Alabama secondary in part because of how well he defended the deep ball. He only allowed 1 catch of 25-plus yards in man coverage during the regular season (PFF). Wilson, on the other hand, has a catch of 20 yards in every Ohio State game this year.

You could make a strong case that Olave is the most important player on Ohio State’s entire team. Don’t believe me? Go to the Northwestern game when Olave didn’t play and tell me the passing attack wasn’t a forced mess without the finesse wideout. That word “finesse,” was exactly how Surtain described both Olave and Wilson. They aren’t freaks of nature, but 1 misstep against them can be all she wrote.

While it’s certainly a group effort for the Alabama secondary to contain OSU’s duo, Surtain has to be the shutdown guy. Ohio State isn’t going to totally avoid him like Notre Dame did (PFF had him charted for 2 targets on Surtain … which went for 6 yards). Fields doesn’t shy away from defensive backs. Surtain won’t be any different.

A fascinating chess match awaits.

Before you assume Trey Sermon is going to cap a 2014 Ezekiel Elliott run …

You should know that in the 12 conference championship/bowl games that Alabama played since Elliott torched Alabama in the 2014 Sugar Bowl, no running back hit 100 rushing yards against Saban’s defense. Kyler Murray hit the century mark in the 2018 Orange Bowl, though that’s different than preparing for a tailback.

That’s not to say that Sermon can’t go off against Alabama. It’s just worth remembering that we’re talking about a defense that is usually extremely disciplined on the big stage.

It’s wild to think that Sermon over Najee Harris isn’t that crazy of a stance because of how dominant the former has been for the Buckeyes. Harris has been pretty dominant himself as of late. He averaged 200 scrimmage yards in Alabama’s last 2 games, which was of course highlighted by the hurdle for the ages:

Sermon isn’t on that level:

It’s worth noting that he scored a touchdown on the very next play. He’s been fantastic lately, and against an Alabama run defense that’s been good, not great, nobody would be surprised to see him make more big plays.

Christian Harris and Dylan Moses have a tall task ahead in preventing Sermon from reaching the second level and doing his full 2014 Zeke imitation.

I spent an entire afternoon debating with myself about which quarterback I’d rather have

I settled on Mac Jones, but I struggled with it. Big time.

I broke down 6 parameters as to who would be better suited to have on Monday night. Here’s how that went:

Fields vs. Jones
Advantage?
Fewer mistakes
Jones
Better improviser
Fields
Better in 2020
Jones
Big-stage experience
Tie
Favorable D matchup
Jones
Game on the line
Fields

That’s a final score of 3-2-1 in favor of Jones. That doesn’t necessarily guarantee that’s how it’ll play out Monday night. For all we know, Fields’ ribs will hold up and he’ll deliver an encore even more memorable than his semifinal showing.

Whatever the case, I hope that both quarterbacks are at their best. When they’re on, which is more times than not, they’re as dangerous as any players in America.

It’ll be interesting to see how both of them handle pressure. Both have dominant interior defensive linemen who rush the passer. Christian Barmore and Haskell Garrett are outstanding players who can allow these defenses to not send additional help from the second level.

If Fields is wincing every other throw or is concerned about using his legs, the likelihood of him keeping pace with Jones seems unlikely. Given the toughness that was on display against Clemson, I wouldn’t bank on that.

You can’t go wrong picking between these guys, but for Monday, I’ll take the guy who has been the best quarterback in college football in 2020.

(That’s Jones, not Trevor Lawrence.)

The over/under for this game is in the mid-70s!

I just thought that should be noted.

Yay, points!

A prediction … Alabama wins 45-42

Speaking of points, give me the “over” on Monday. Both offenses have ridiculous balance. Both defenses can allow big passing plays. Both coaches will be prepared to win a shootout.

Points, points, points.

As for who will score more of them, I’ll do the boring thing and say the favorite (Alabama) wins but the underdog (-7.5) gets a backdoor cover late. I can’t see how Ohio State slows down Alabama’s passing game. The odds of the Buckeyes figuring out their secondary issues against this Alabama team just seem so unlikely, even if they’re able to get a little bit of pressure on Jones. He’s too quick with his release for that to impact him for 60 minutes.

I watched what Ohio State did against Clemson and wondered if that was more of a “tank” game than a “new ceiling” game. By “tank,” I mean everything Ohio State had in the tank. The revenge angle after the 2019 Fiesta Bowl, the No. 11 ranking from Swinney in the Coaches Poll, the Fields finally getting the better of Lawrence element, etc. I can’t help but wonder if all of that came out in a 60-minute stretch. It certainly looked like it at the line of scrimmage, where Ohio State dominated Clemson like no team has since the Tigers became a national force.

Is there anything left in the tank? Yes. Ohio State is too talented and experienced for there not to be.

But is there enough left in the tank to beat one of the most dominant teams the sport has ever seen? I don’t think so.

Move over, Bear Bryant. There’s about to be a new (ring) leader in the clubhouse.