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Ohio State-Alabama to end COVID-19-riddled college football season – UPI.com

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MIAMI, Jan. 11 (UPI) — Ohio State and Alabama meet Monday for the finale of what has been an unprecedented college football season, rampant with positive COVID-19 tests, canceled games, player opt outs and more.

The College Football Playoff National Championship kicks off at 8 p.m. EST in Miami Gardens, Fla.

“I think it’s been good for everyone that we’ve been able to play football, whether it’s NFL football or college football,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said Thursday.

“A lot of people have put a lot of time and effort throughout the country, throughout the NCAA, throughout every conference to try to create an atmosphere and environment which gave the players an opportunity to compete, the fans something to root for and look forward to, and I think that’s a real positive thing.”

About 16,000 fans have been cleared to attend Monday’s game, the highest attendance for a major championship in the United States since Super Bowl LIV, which was held at the same stadium in February.

Alabama did not have any of its 10 games canceled this season, while Ohio State had three games canceled and played a five-game schedule. Saban and Ohio State coach Ryan Day each tested positive for COVID-19 during the season, in addition to several players from each team.

Alabama — and other Southeastern Conference schools — played a conference-only schedule and had a brief delay to the start of their campaign due to the pandemic.

Ohio State — and other Big Ten teams — canceled their fall football seasons before the conference reversed course. The Buckeyes began their season about a month later than the Crimson Tide.

“I would say, under the circumstances, that we’re pleased with the way this season has gone and the number of games we’ve been able to play, the players having the opportunity to compete and now to culminate it with a playoff and a championship game,” Saban said.

The Buckeyes continue to have issues with COVID-19 and could be without players for the title game due to positive tests and protocols. The teams discussed postponement, but the game still is expected to be played Monday.

The Buckeyes have played several games this season without many of their starters. Day called losing players to COVID-19-related issues a “gut punch,” but said his team has gotten used to it.

“That’s why the story about this season is just so amazing to me,” Day said. “We just continued to push through despite all those difficult challenges along the way.

“And no different this week. We’ve got a new set of challenges this week. We’re going to have to figure it out, go down to Miami and play.”

Alabama offense vs. Ohio State defense

Alabama remains an 8-point favorite at most betting websites to win the game, which airs on ESPN. The Crimson Tide have been one of the most-successful programs in college football over the last decade.

On Monday, Alabama will play in its eighth national title game the last 12 years. They have won five of their previous 11 appearances.

Saban can also pass Bear Bryant for the most national titles (seven) in history with a victory.

Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith is the top offensive weapon for this year’s Alabama squad. The Crimson Tide also have quarterback Mac Jones and running back Najee Harris in the backfield. That trio has helped the Crimson Tide score at least 30 points in every game this season.

“We’ve got one more game and it’s the most important game,” Jones said.

Jones on Thursday won the Davey O’Brien Award as the best quarterback in college football. Harris was named the best running back in college football and received the Doak Walker Award. Smith was named the best all-around player and the best wide receiver.

The Buckeyes ranked No. 9 this season in scoring with 42.5 points per game. They also had the No. 4 rushing offense in the country. The Crimson Tide ranked No. 5 in yards per game and No. 2 in points per game.

The Buckeyes have allowed the second-fewest rushing yards per game, but have struggled to defend the pass. Ohio State ranked No. 116 in passing yards allowed.

The Crimson Tide have also converted nearly 60% of their third-down attempts on offense, the best rate in college football.

When it comes to stopping the prolific Crimson Tide offense, the Buckeyes will lean on their secondary, but they may have to contend with another weapon: Jaylen Waddle.

The wide receiver is a game-time decision, but practiced last week for the first time since he sustained surgery on a broken ankle in October.

Alabama’s defense will be tasked with stopping Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, who threw six touchdown passes in the Buckeyes’ CFP Semifinal win over Clemson. If Ohio State can’t slow down Alabama, the game could turn into a shootout between two star quarterbacks.

“All of the stuff that this team has been through and all the stuff that everybody has been through is big sacrifice just for this moment. We’re just glad that we have the opportunity to play,” Fields said.

Ohio State defeats Clemson at Sugar Bowl

From left to right, Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day, with players Justin Fields and Tuf Borland hold the Miller-Digby Memorial Trophy after defeating Clemson 49-28 in the Sugar Bowl on Friday. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
Day is showered by linebacker Trayvon Wilburn (R) and offensive lineman Dawand Jones (C) after defeating Clemson. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
Fields celebrates a Most Valuable Player award with Day. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
Clemson’s Cornell Powell (C) dives across the goal line to score a touchdown. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
Ohio State’s Jameson Williams (R) catches a pass for a touchdown. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
Ohio State’s Chris Olave (L) catches a pass and evades Clemson’s Derion Kendrick for a 56-yard touchdown. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
A security official reminds attendees about the coronavirus safety protocols during the Sugar Bowl, where about 3,000 football fans were allowed into the stadium. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
Clemson fans react late in the second half. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
Ohio State’s Jeremy Ruckert (R) catches 12-yard touchdown. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
Ruckert (R) celebrates the 12-yard touchdown. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
An Ohio State fan reacts during the game. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
Ohio State’s Chris Olave (L) scores on a 9-yard pass reception. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
Ohio State’s Trey Sermon (C) scrambles past Clemson’s defenders. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
Ruckert (R) runs past Clemson defensive end Justin Mascoll for a 17-yard touchdown. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence (C) runs for a touchdown against Ohio State. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
Clemson’s Travis Etienne (C) scores on a 3-yard touchdown run. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence (L) hands off to Etienne during the first half. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
Ohio State’s Chris Olave (C) celebrates with teammate Luke Farrell after a 9-yard pass reception. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
Clemson’s Davis Allen (L) makes a catch over Ohio State’s Josh Proctor. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
Clemson’s quarterback Lawrence (L) joins head coach Dabo Swinney before the game. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
Ohio State Buckeyes players enter the field for the Sugar Bowl. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
Swinney is framed by a Sugar Bowl logo before the NCAA semifinal game. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo

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