College football will crown a champion on the second Monday of the year, as it has done throughout its recent history.
What has not been the same this season compared to the past? Oh, pretty much everything else.
The programs that made this milestone, the Alabama Crimson Tide and the No.3 Ohio State Buckeyes, are two teams that have year after year title aspirations. In 2020, a program conference spearheaded efforts to play this season during a global pandemic; the other program’s conference had almost no season at all.
That’s how unorthodox this season has been – a season with no sell-outs, no gangs or tailgates. But like all previous ones, only one program will lift the trophy after the last 60 minutes.
Follow updates and analyzes as the game unfolds. As always, be sure to follow USA TODAY Sports on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to stay up to date with the latest college football news.
Ohio State ties at 7-7
With Trey Sermon out, the Buckeyes will have to rely on Master Teague for production out of the backfield. He helped in that regard in Ohio State’s second practice, which ended in a touchdown to tie 7-7.
The Buckeyes used the tempo after their line. Fields found receiver Chris Olave, one of his favorite targets, twice early in the race to bring Ohio State closer to the midfielder. In time, Fields threw a pass down the middle of tight end Jeremy Ruckert, who managed to grab one-handed for a 36-yard finish.
On the next play, Teague remained intact in the end zone at eight yards.
Maybe here is a score barrage from both sides?
Alabama take the lead 7-0
Alabama fires on all cylinders.
The defense forced a three and an out, then the crimson tide rolled across the pitch using Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith and fellow playmakers Najee Harris (who pulled off a pair of powerful runs) and Jaylen Waddle to advance near the goal line.
One yard away, Harris entered the end zone to place Alabama 7-0 with 8:07 left in the first quarter.
Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, who broke his ankle on October 24 made an unlikely comeback in the college football playoff championship game and took a short pass from Mac Jones for 15 yards and a first down on his first scrimmage game in over two months.
After an initial diagnosis that he would be out for the season, Waddle’s return was the subject of speculation all week when he took part in practice. Alabama coach Nick Saban said ahead of the game that Waddle would be a game-time decision and would be used on a very limited basis if he could play.
Before Waddle was injured, he had caught 25 passes for 557 yards and four touchdowns and was widely regarded as Crimson Tide’s most dangerous player. His injury, in a sense, paved the way for DeVonta Smith to become the offensive center of Alabama’s offense and launched him to the Heisman Trophy.
Waddle spent a lot of time before the game stretching his ankle and running sprints to see if he felt good enough to play. Although he appeared to be walking with a slight limp, he was apparently confident enough in the ankle to try.
– Then Clouds
Trey Sermon leaves Ohio State
After the Buckeyes fed Trey Sermon in the first scrimmage game, the running back injured himself and made his way to the Ohio State locker room. ESPN reporter Maria Taylor said it was a left shoulder injury and Sermon could not lift his arm.
That would be a problem for the Ohio State offense, which risks becoming more one-dimensional without a Sermon, which has become the Buckeyes’ best option in the backfield. Between the Big Ten Championship game and the National Semifinal against Clemson, Sermon rushed for 524 yards – a consecutive game record at Ohio State previously set by Ezekiel Elliott (476) in 2015.
Alabama wins draw, Ohio state’s first possession
The state of Ohio called Tails, but the coin landed with its head facing up. Alabama deferred to the second period, handing the ball to Ohio State first. Quarterback Justin Fields and the Buckeyes offense went three times to start the game.
Wide receiver Jaylen Waddle isn’t the only injured Alabama starter in the pads for the Championship game.
Center Landon Dickerson was dressed in full pads and briefly participated in Alabama’s pre-game warm-ups less than a month after sustaining a knee injury in the SEC Championship game win over Florida .
Dickerson wore two bulky knee pads during warm-ups and had his entire left leg bandaged. While moving cautiously, Dickerson always took quarterback Mac Jones near the midfield during drills and then stood behind Alabama’s offensive line as the group went through the rhythms inside from the Crimson Tide end zone.
Dickerson was also the Alabama captain for the toss.
– Paul Myerberg
A key scenario for the Crimson Tide entering Monday was the potential availability of dynamic wide receiver and returner Jaylen Waddle, who injured his ankle on Oct. 24 against Tennessee.
Waddle was medically cleared, but his status was still unknown before the game as the decision to play now rests with the player.
The Buckeyes will be without two defensive starters and a key specialist.
Tommy Togiai and Tyreke Smith, both starters on the Buckeyes’ much-vaunted defensive line, are among the 13 players unavailable for Ohio State.
In addition, the Buckeyes kicker Blake Haubeil announced on Instagram that he had tested positive for the coronavirus and will miss the game.
“I am extremely upset, but at the same time, I am extremely grateful to be an asymptomatic person,” he wrote. “I’ve spent the last four months making sacrifices and haven’t seen my family and friends once. So to say I’m pissed off is an understatement.
The Buckeyes will look to first-year kicker Jake Seibert, who has been ranked by ESPN as the No.4 kicker in the 2020 recruiting class.
The scene in Tuscaloosa
Many in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, seem to avoid recommendations against crowds or gatherings.
Videos and photos of Tuscaloosa on Monday show queues outside bars and restaurants in the area hours before kickoff.