Winners and Losers of the 2020 National Championship Game

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistJanuary 12, 2021

Winners and Losers of the 2020 National Championship Game

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Last week's College Football Awards program was basically a showcase for Alabama's superstar-making football factory, and Monday night's College Football Playoff National Championship Game showed why in a 52-24 Crimson Tide win.

    The nation's top offense played pinball wizard against the Buckeyes, unleashing Heisman Trophy-winning receiver DeVonta Smith and his bevy of teammates who'll dot NFL rosters next year, building a big halftime lead and never looking back.

    The Buckeyes were depleted with coronavirus-related absences and beset by injuries, but it was obvious Alabama was the best team in the nation, as it showed all year.

    There were plenty of highlights and lowlights from Monday's action, so let's take a look at some of the title game's biggest winners and losers.

Winner: Nick Saban Is College Football's All-Time Best

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Alabama was fortunate enough to have a Bear, but now it has the GOAT.

    With the Crimson Tide's win over Ohio State on Monday night, Nick Saban passed Paul "Bear" Bryant's six national titles with his seventh, giving him the most in the Associated Press era of college football.

    Remarkably, he's won seven national championships in the past 18 seasons, and all the other active head coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision have a combined six. If that doesn't spell dominance, nothing does.

    Saban first stamped his name on college football with rugged defenses, but as the game has evolved, so has the Crimson Tide's offense, and now they're outscoring everybody with the sport's most explosive unit that produces NFL stars every year.

    He wins in living rooms, getting the nation's top recruits in seemingly every class, and he develops them into national champions and future pros. Tuscaloosa is a factory right now, not only churning out pro players but also producing titles at a scary rate for the rest of the sport.

    Saban is the king of college football.

Winner: Mr. Heisman

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    The first time DeVonta Smith touched the ball was on a punt return, and the Buckeyes dragged him down quickly for no gain.

    They would prove unable to replicate that type of result against the Heisman Trophy winner. 

    Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian moved "Smitty" around everywhere, and the Buckeyes' shallow, embattled secondary couldn't stop him. 

    He took a bubble screen on his first catch, turned the corner and turned on the jets for a 22-yard gain on his way to picking up 31 yards on the opening touchdown drive. On the second scoring drive, he started the series with a 32-yard catch on a Mac Jones deep ball before scoring from five yards out later.

    It was that way throughout the game for the nation's best playmaker. He was a walking mismatch in a memorable performance that included a CFP title game-record 12 catches—all coming in the first half—for 215 yards and three touchdowns. 

    The Buckeyes routinely gave the star pass-catcher huge cushions just to try to contain him. Whether it was the deep ball (multiple times), the back-shoulder throw or turning short grabs into big gains, he was unstoppable.

Loser: Shaun Wade and a Futile Buckeyes Defense

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    There's nothing wrong being competitive, trying to give yourself an edge and having a ton of confidence.

    But sometimes you get what you wish for, and it doesn't turn out well.

    Just ask OSU defensive back Shaun Wade, who wanted a shot at Alabama Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith, telling reporters leading up to the game, "You already know who I want to go up against at the end of the day."

    He got the chance, and he was torched worse than he was in a forgettable semifinal showing against Clemson.

    But Wade wasn't alone in his futility among his defensive teammates. The Ohio State defense was out-matched throughout the game. The Buckeyes ran a few gimmick blitzes and got to Mac Jones, but they didn't put enough pressure on him.

    Though they played four linebackers much of the night in an attempt to take away running back Najee Harris, the star running back still got important yards and was a factor in the passing game, as well.

    When the Buckeyes had that type of personnel on the field, the Crimson Tide exploited it by passing all over the place. They ran receivers unimpeded all over the field, and it looked at times like they could have named their score.

Winner: Those 'Other' 2 Stars in Crimson

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Quarterback Mac Jones and running back Najee Harris proved plenty in what may wind up being their final game in an Alabama uniform.    

    Not that there were any doubters left after their brilliant seasons. 

    But when DeVonta Smith was lost for much of the second half with a finger injury, Alabama's offense didn't miss a beat, largely because of the two "other" guys who shared Smith's hype and headlines.

    Jones posted an exclamation mark after finishing third in the Heisman race and showed he deserves the accolades he's received this year. Harris kept churning out Superman plays that proved he's the nation's top running back.

    Harris is a complete back who is going to be an NFL star. Though the Buckeyes loaded the box to stop him, the California native finished with 79 rushing yards and a pair of rushing scores. He was even more effective in the passing game with seven catches for 79 yards and another score.

    Jones etched his own name into Alabama lore, finishing 36-of-45 for 464 yards and five touchdowns.

    It would have been a flawless performance if not for the signal-caller's first-half fumble, but that was a small miscue on a night the Tide did little wrong.

Loser: Justin Fields' Supporting Cast

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Battling the lingering effects of an injury suffered in the Clemson game, Justin Fields couldn't match the heroics he displayed in the semifinal victory over the Tigers.

    He didn't have enough help from his supporting cast, either.

    After Trey Sermon's early injury following a single carry, replacement Master Teague III did fine. But the breakaway threat in the Buckeyes' rushing attack that was there in the previous two victories over Northwestern and Clemson was missing.

    More puzzling, though, was Ohio State's failure to generate any big plays in the passing game. 

    Chris Olave finished with a respectable eight catches for 69 yards but couldn't get his foot down on a potential touchdown grab late in the fourth quarter. That was a microcosm of a game that, by that time, was already out of reach. Normally explosive receiver Garrett Wilson added three catches for 50 yards and a score.

    But neither could produce the type of highlight-reel plays needed to hang with the Crimson Tide.

    The Buckeyes are recruiting as well as anybody at receiver, and the future at the position is bright. But Monday night was not the best showing for the pass-catchers—or really any of the other supposed offensive standouts surrounding the all-star signal-caller.

Winner: Steve Sarkisian's Dress Rehearsal for Texas

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    Vasha Hunt/Associated Press

    It may have seemed puzzling to some that Texas would pull the trigger on firing Tom Herman and hiring Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian to replace him.

    But after the beauty Sark dialed up in the national championship game following a Broyles Award-winning season as the nation's top assistant, it shouldn't be any longer.

    It's obvious Sark is at the pinnacle of his offensive play-calling. Yes, he has the nation's top toy box with difference-makers like DeVonta Smith, Najee Harris, Mac Jones and others, but there's a certain poetry to how Sark handles them.

    The intricacies of the play designs are remarkable. At times, everybody in the stadium knew Smith was going to get the ball, but Sark drew up ways to get him wide open. Though injured receiver Jaylen Waddle had a severely limited snap count, Sark designed ways to get him the ball when he was on the field.

    Waddle came in on 3rd-and-3 on Alabama's first drive of the game, and Sark called a mesh route for him. Waddle caught a pass and took it 15 yards for a pivotal first down. 

    Another time with Jones facing blitzers, Sark had Harris leak out right where the pressure came from, and Jones was smart enough to find him for a touchdown pass.

    Sark was always two steps ahead of Ohio State's defense, and that bodes well for the Longhorns' future.

Loser: Ohio State's Health Situation

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    As if the Buckeyes weren't dealing with bad enough news being without 13 players due to COVID-19 protocol, they were handed another rough dose on their first offensive series. 

    Star running back Trey Sermon—who'd busted out for 331 rushing yards against Northwestern in the Big Ten title game and shredded Clemson for 193 more—left after just one run.

    He immediately walked into the locker room, tugging at his collarbone area and seemingly barely able to move his arm. He didn't return and was replaced by Master Teague III. ESPN's Maria Taylor reported Sermon went to the hospital.

    While Teague spent much of the season as the Buckeyes starter and played well Monday, Sermon had become a force as the season progressed after transferring from Oklahoma. 

    You need a full complement of all-stars to match the high-octane Crimson Tide point for point, and the Buckeyes were far from having that. Starting defensive linemen Tommy Togiai and Tyreke Smith and starting kicker Blake Haubeil were among those out. OSU had to battle the Tide without them.


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