LAS VEGAS — Ten days after throwing a near-perfect game, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields needs a repeat performance in Monday’s national championship game against No. 1 Alabama. The odds are not in his favor.
It’s tough for any team or player to follow an A-plus performance with another one, which is why betting on what you have seen most recently is not advised. The Buckeyes, disrespected underdogs and highly motivated, were at their absolute best in a 49-28 blowout of Clemson on Jan. 1 in the Sugar Bowl. Tigers star Trevor Lawrence, the presumed No. 1 pick in this year’s NFL draft, was by far the second-best quarterback on the field.
Fields threw six incompletions and six touchdowns. He went 22-for-28 for 385 yards in the finest performance of his career. However, it’s important to remember Fields struggled against the strongest defenses he had faced in the Big Ten this season, throwing a total of five interceptions and taking eight sacks in narrow victories over Indiana and Northwestern. Fields also took a hard shot to the ribs in the second quarter against Clemson, so the injury could hinder his ability to run and throw against the Crimson Tide.
Ohio State remains dangerous due to running back Trey Sermon, a powerful offensive line and a defensive line that suffocated Trevor Lawrence. Sermon, who rushed for 331 yards against Northwestern and 193 yards against Clemson, must be effective to make things easier for Fields. This is not one of coach Nick Saban’s greatest Alabama defenses, so the Buckeyes will move the ball, but it’s doubtful they can match scores with the Tide.
Alabama’s big-play firepower starts with quarterback Mac Jones and wideout DeVonta Smith, who can exploit Ohio State’s soft secondary. The Buckeyes ranked last in the Big Ten in pass defense in their first six games. Jones has completed 77 percent of his passes with 36 touchdowns and four interceptions, but he’s being overlooked amid the hype for this matchup. Do not overlook Najee Harris, who 24 rushing touchdowns, and the potential return from injury by star receiver Jaylen Waddle. The Tide offense is set to roll after letting off the gas and hitting cruise control in a 31-14 win over Notre Dame.
The main focus of the Buckeyes’ offseason was avenging last year’s semifinal loss to Clemson, and duplicating that performance will be difficult. The total of 74.5 is a solid number. My score projection is 45-31. Saban is shooting for his sixth national title at Alabama, and he’s a good bet to get it because his team has been consistently better on both sides of the ball.
The pick: Alabama -8.5.
Last week: 1-1 Iowa State (W), North Carolina (L).