Alabama in record fifth CFP title game, facing inaugural champ Ohio State

It’s a matchup of storied programs playing Jan. 11 in suburban Miami to determine the champion of this most unusual season played in the shadow of a pandemic.

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CFP Semifinal at the Allstate Sugar Bowl - Clemson v Ohio State

Ohio State coach Ryan Day is doused with Gatorade late in the Buckeyes’ victory over Clemson on Friday night in New Orleans.

Sean Gardner/Getty Images

ARLINGTON, Texas — Top-ranked Alabama has two Heisman Trophy finalists and is in the College Football Playoff championship game for a record fifth time. Ohio State is back for the first time since winning the inaugural title in the CFP era.

After the SEC champion Crimson Tide rolled past Notre Dame 31-14 in a Rose Bowl played deep in the heart of Texas, the No. 3 Buckeyes of the Big Ten beat Clemson 49-28 in the other CFP semifinal at the Sugar Bowl on Friday night. The Tigers were trying, like Alabama, to get to the title game for the fifth time in the seven seasons of the four-team playoff.

So it’s a matchup of storied programs playing Jan. 11 in suburban Miami to determine the champion of this most unusual season played in the shadow of a pandemic.

They haven’t met since the first year of the CFP at the end of the 2014 regular season. Alabama was the top seed in the first four-team playoff, but Ohio State beat the Tide 42-35 in the semifinal Sugar Bowl. The Buckeyes went on to win the national title 42-20 over Oregon that year, but they had lost twice to Clemson in the semifinals since.

While this season’s CFP has provided a third consecutive title-game matchup of undefeated teams, this one is a little different.

Alabama has played 12 games, getting through a conference-only regular season before holding off Florida 52-46 in the SEC championship game and then winning the relocated Rose Bowl. That semifinal was moved from Pasadena because of COVID-19 restrictions that would have kept family — or any fans — from attending the game.

Ohio State’s overwhelming win in the Sugar Bowl was only its seventh game this season.

The Buckeyes had three regular-season games canceled because of virus issues after the Big Ten didn’t start its season until late October. The league altered its rules to let them represent the East Division in the conference championship game after only five regular-season games, instead of the six that had been initially mandated.

DeVonta Smith caught three of fellow Heisman Trophy finalist Mac Jones’ four touchdown passes in Alabama’s win in the Rose Bowl played at the home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. Smith caught seven passes for 130 yards, while Jones completed 25 of 30 passes for 297 yards.

Justin Fields threw six touchdown passes in the Sugar Bowl as the Buckeyes avenged last season’s painful CFP loss to Clemson.

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