CFP National Championship: Keys for Alabama and Ohio State to win

By Amy Daughters -

With a combined record of 17-0, it’s difficult to find major flaws in either (1) Alabama or (3) Ohio State’s statistical resumes. Seriously, these are the same guys that – together – scored 882 points vs. their opponents’ 382. That’s a 500-point difference.

Despite the lack of a string of narrow misses, a small number of teams got closer to upsetting the Tide and Bucks than did others. And those matchups, when combined, paint a picture. Though not a study in realism, they leave an impression, providing a hint of which factors, if combined, could result in not only a win, but in a national championship.


Don’t let Ohio State score more than one rushing TD

Alabama’s defense – ranked No. 13 nationally vs. the run – gave up more than one rushing TD in only three of its 12 outings this season. The Tide allowed a season-high four in it’s 63-48 win at Ole Miss, three in it’s six-point victory vs. (7) Florida in the SEC title game and two in it’s 31-14 win over (4) Notre Dame in the CFP semifinal. It’s no coincidence that these were also their three narrowest margins of victory in 2020.

Alabama allowed a single rushing TD in wins over Missouri, (9) Georgia, Auburn and LSU and held (5) Texas A&M, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Kentucky, and Arkansas to zero such scores.

Ohio State is ranked No. 5 nationally in rushing offense, it’s scored two-plus rushing TDs in all but two of its seven appearances this year – managing just one at Penn State and one in the CFP semifinal blowout vs. (2) Clemson.

Rush for 200-plus yards

Alabama rushed for 200-plus yards in each of its four biggest wins this season. It hung up 208 ground yards in its 41-0 shutout vs. Mississippi State, 216 in a 52-3 win at Arkansas, 226 in a 63-3 landslide vs. Kentucky and 265 in its 55-17 win over LSU. The only other time the Tide eclipsed the 200-rushing yard mark in 2020 was in their 63-48 victory over Ole Miss when they cranked out a season-high 306 ground yards.

Compare that to the rushing totals in the nearest misses – 187 vs. (7) Florida in the SEC title game, 147 vs. (9) Georgia and a mere 140 in the 17-point win over (4) Notre Dame in the CFP semifinal.

Ohio State is ranked No. 2 in the nation vs. the run. It’s only given up 200-plus rushing yards once this season, allowing Nebraska 210 in a 52-17 win in the opener. It held (2) Clemson and Penn State to 44 rushing yards each and limited (11) Indiana to -1.

Hold Ohio State to under 50% on third down

Alabama’s defense has only allowed opponents to convert on third down 41.4% of the time this season with only five of the 12 opponents managing 50% or better. Missouri and (4) Notre Dame (19 and 17-point wins respectively) both posted a 50% conversion rate on third down, Ole Miss was 52.94% (a 15-point victory), (5) Texas A&M was 58.82% (a 28-point decision) and (7) Florida – the narrowest victory all season (six points) – posted a season-high 72.73%.

Ohio State’s offense is averaging a 50% success rate on third down (No. 6 in the FBS). It’s only dipped under that mark on three occasions – vs. (11) Indiana (42.86%), vs. (14) Northwestern (36.36%) and vs. (2) Clemson (41.67%).


Score more than 70% of the time inside the 20

Ohio State scored points on 30 of its 39 trips (76.92%) into the red zone in 2020. While this may not sound tragic, it lands them at No. 100 (of the 127 FBS squads posting stats this season) nationally and No. 10 in the Big Ten. Of its seven appearances, the Bucks have only dropped under the 70% mark in red zone scoring on three occasions, also its three narrowest victories of the season. OSU only scored 66.67% of the time inside the 20 vs. both Penn State (a 13-point win) and (11) Indiana (a 7-point win) and then posted a season-low 57.14% in its 22-10 win over (14) Northwestern in the Big Ten title game.

Alabama’s defense has allowed opponents to score points 73.53% of the time inside the 20 (No. 15 in the FBS). Of the 12 teams it’s faced, it limited six – or half – to 70% or less. It held (4) Notre Dame to 50% in the CFP semifinal game.

Don’t allow Alabama to score more than two passing TDs

Ohio State’s defense has only given up more than two passing TDs twice this season – three in it’s 38-25 win at Penn State and a season-high five in it’s 42-35 near miss vs. Indiana. It held (2) Clemson (which has scored three-plus on five occasions in 2020) to two passing TDs, Rutgers to one and then held Nebraska, Michigan State and (14) Northwestern to zero such scores.

Alabama’s offense is currently ranked No. 5 in the FBS in passing yards per game. It’s managed two-plus passing TDs on eight occasions (five of these were four-plus) including hanging up a season high five on both Auburn and (7) Florida (in the SEC title game).

Justin Fields Can’t Throw a Pick

Ohio State QB Justin Fields didn’t throw a single interception in four of his seven appearances this season including a perfect three-game run to open the year. Since then, he’s thrown a pick in three of his last four games – a season-high three in the 7-point win vs. (11) Indiana, two in the 12-point win over (14) Northwestern in the Big Ten title game and then one in the blowout win over (2) Clemson in the CFP semifinal.

Alabama’s defense has logged 12 interceptions in 2020 (tied for No. 17 in the FBS). It’s managed two-plus picks on four occasions and has three players with multiple interceptions this year – freshman DB Malachi Moore (#13) (who did not appear in the CFP semifinal vs. Notre Dame), freshman DB Brian Branch (#14) and junior DB Daniel Wright (#3).

Stats courtesy of