Saturday Football: CFP title game preview, Justin Fields and LSU's coordinator search
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Good morning and happy Monday! We made it! The 2020 season officially ends tonight with the College Football Playoff National Championship Game between Alabama and Ohio State in Miami. The game kicks off at 8 p.m. Eastern time and can be seen across the ESPN family of networks in various forms. Who will win? We’ll find out soon enough!
For today’s newsletter, though, we’ll do a preview of the big game. Then, we’ll focus specifically on Ohio State QB Justin Fields, who was banged up in the semifinal win over Clemson. Finally, we’ll turn our attention to LSU, where the Tigers’ search for some new coordinators has provided plenty of intrigue. Let’s get started!
CFP TITLE GAME PREVIEW
Alabama and Ohio State will meet with a title on the line. Who will hoist the CFP trophy?
It’s finally here. Tonight, a national champion will be crowned as Alabama and Ohio State meet in Miami for the College Football Playoff title game. It will be a battle between two elite offenses, two dynamic defenses and two great coaches. Alabama got here by beating Notre Dame in the Rose Bowl. Ohio State got here by steamrolling Clemson in the Sugar Bowl.
So, who will win tonight? Let’s take a look at what’s being said about the big game, along with some predictions and other analysis ahead of the final game of the 2020 season:
- Right now, praise is flying around between both teams. Nick Saban had plenty of nice things to say about Ohio State RB Trey Sermon. Ohio State coach Ryan Day reciprocated with praise for Alabama RB Najee Harris. Day said he realizes that just getting to the title game isn’t enough, though. Meanwhile, former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer had the ultimate compliment for Day, comparing him to Saban. Saturday Down South’s Phil Ervin makes sure Alabama’s offensive line gets the credit it deserves.
- What can the Buckeyes do to slow down Alabama’s dynamic offense? The Crimson Tide broke a record at the College Football Awards, winning seven of the 15 individual awards. QB Mac Jones (Davey O’Brien), WR DeVonta Smith (Biletnikoff, Maxwell, Walter Camp Player of the Year), OL Landon Dickerson (Rimington), Alex Leatherwood (Outland) and Najee Harris (Doak Walker). Oh, and that’s all in addition to Smith winning the Heisman Trophy. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly says the best way to stop the Tide offense is to keep it off the field. He said Ohio State’s running game will be the key to a Buckeye victory. Urban Meyer actually went as far as to predict an Ohio State win. Ohio State legend Eddie George said if the Buckeyes play the way they did against Clemson, no one can beat them. But, ESPN’s Rod Gilmore thinks it could be a long night for CB Shaun Wade and the Ohio State defense. Kirk Herbstreit said Justin Fields’ health will be the X-factor (more on Fields later).
- Now, for a few other odds and ends before tonight’s kickoff. Saban provided the final health updates on Jaylen Waddle, LaBryan Ray and Malachi Moore. He added that he’s happy with the way Steve Sarkisian and other Alabama assistants leaving for new jobs after the season have prepared for this game. Ohio State released an epic hype video narrated by John Legend and LeBron James. Bleacher Report’s Jake Rill breaks down a number of key storylines entering the game.
Any time two teams of this caliber get together is great. Add a national championship to the mix and this could be an all-time incredible game. Who will win? Which elite offense will make the most big plays? Which coach will have the better night? We’re about to find out!
- Nick Saban is going for his sixth title at Alabama tonight. He already has six titles in his career, but one came at LSU. If he gets his sixth ring with the Crimson Tide, he’ll match the legendary Bear Bryant. Saturday Down South’s David Wasson takes a look at how Saban’s legacy stacks up against the Bear’s, since Bryant’s shadow still looms large in Tuscaloosa.
- Trey Sermon’s emergence has been one of the best stories for Ohio State. But, things haven’t always come this easily for the Oklahoma transfer running back and his family. Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger details how the title game in Miami will be a Florida homecoming for Sermon and his mom, but not necessarily one with only positive memories.
- Ohio State has been building for this moment for a while now. From hiring Ryan Day to landing Justin Fields as a transfer from Georgia, the Buckeyes have done everything right ahead of their 2020 run to the Playoff. Saturday Tradition’s Ryan O’Gara explains why the 2020 Buckeyes were built for this moment.
- Alabama-Clemson has been a huge rivalry this past decade. Will Alabama-Ohio State also become a notable rivalry? Which other rivalries have been prominent since 2010? Bleacher Report’s Joel Reuter takes a look at a few of the biggest rivalries in college football today (and they aren’t all team vs. team).
Justin Fields will go down as one of the greatest QBs in Ohio State history. Will he end his career with a title?
One game. That’s all that (probably) remains of Justin Fields’ college football career. After a Heisman Trophy-like performance in the Sugar Bowl against Clemson on New Year’s Day, the Ohio State quarterback has a chance to secure his legacy as one of the greatest players in Buckeyes history with a win over Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game on Monday night.
Fields will have to overcome quite a bit to lead Ohio State to a national title. Not only does he have to face a rough-and-tough Alabama defense, but the junior QB likely isn’t at 100% after taking a hard shot to the ribs from Clemson linebacker James Skalski in the Sugar Bowl. It’s hard to say the odds are stacked against a player as talented as Fields, but the national championship will prove to be one of the greatest challenges he’s faced during his college career. Does he have enough in the tank to lead the Buckeyes to victory over the Crimson Tide?
- Fields’ success at Ohio State begins with…Trevor Lawrence? As you already know, Fields didn’t start his career at Ohio State. He spent one season at Georgia under head coach Kirby Smart before deciding to move to Columbus — a fact that ESPN won’t let anyone forget with its choice of graphics for the Buckeyes QB. Why did Fields decide to transfer after one season? In a recent episode of the All Things Covered podcast, Smart says Trevor Lawrence’s freshman success at Clemson might’ve been the driving force.
- “The goal is to win a national championship.” Those are the words of head coach Ryan Day, who has downplayed the notion that Ohio State’s main goal was to get revenge on Clemson for last year’s loss in the Playoff semifinals. Fields is, obviously, a big reason why Day and the Buckeyes believe they have a shot to win it all. During the first press conference of national championship week, Day praised Fields for his toughness and resiliency throughout the season, including his courageous effort against the Sugar Bowl after suffering the injury.
- Speaking of that injury, how healthy is Fields? A report from 247Sports earlier this week indicated Fields will be “fine” for Monday’s game. Day said on Sunday that the QB has “had a great week of practice.” Obviously, nobody in Columbus is going to highlight any doubt that Fields is playing in Monday night’s game. But Saturday Tradition’s Ryan O’Gara asks a good question in a recent column: What happens if Fields can’t finish the game? SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum believes that would be a disaster for Ohio State, saying the Buckeyes need a perfect performance from their QB to stay on the same field with Alabama.
- Not only can Fields win a title, he can help his draft stock. Doesn’t it seem weird that we’re talking about Fields improving his draft stock this late in the game? It’s true, though. While ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. says that Fields’ “gritty” Sugar Bowl performance has already solidified his status as a high draft pick, Todd McShay actually has the Ohio State QB listed outside the Top 10 in his latest mock draft. That’s awfully strange for a player of Fields’ caliber. So, that means he’ll get one last shot to prove any of the remaining doubters wrong.
Regardless what happens on Monday night in Miami, Fields will be remembered as one of the greatest players to wear and Ohio State uniform. Capping the 2020 season with a national championship has been the goal since Day 1. Even through this chaotic season, that hasn’t changed for Fields and the Buckeyes.
JUST FOR FUN
College football has become a game where passing is king. In fact, in the six College Football Playoff title games, only three players have managed to eclipse the 100-yard rushing mark. For today’s quiz, can you name the three talented running backs to go for at least 100 yards on the ground in a CFP title game?
Scroll down for the answers to today’s quiz.
LSU’S COORDINATOR SEARCH
LSU has hired a new offensive coordinator, but the search continues for a defensive coordinator. Who will get the job?
After a disappointing 2020 season and a self-imposed postseason ban, the LSU Tigers face a coaching staff overhaul. Head coach Ed Orgeron is still at the helm of the program, but he’s had to replenish his staff, including both coordinator spots. OC Steve Ensminger is moving to an off-field role, passing game coordinator Scott Linehan is gone and DC Bo Pelini was let go. (Pelini will get a cool $4 million by the end of this month as part of his buyout package.)
So, where do Coach O and the Tigers go from here? Let’s take a look at how the coordinator search is playing out in Baton Rouge:
- The offensive side of the ball has mostly been figured out. The Tigers are turning to the Joe Brady coaching tree, and why not? Joe Brady was the wunderkind who helped orchestrate LSU’s historic 2019 offense before heading off to the NFL to serve as the Carolina Panthers’ offensive coordinator. The Tigers have hired Jake Peetz as their new offensive coordinator and DJ Mangas as the passing game coordinator. Both served under Brady in Carolina this season. Contract details for both new LSU assistants have been reported. Saturday Down South’s Les East says it makes sense for Coach O to go back to the Brady style of offense.
- The search for a new defensive coordinator hasn’t been as smooth. The Tigers thought they were getting close to hiring Cincinnati DC Marcus Freeman. He was reportedly LSU’s top candidate and was nearing a deal to head to Baton Rouge. But, at the last minute, Notre Dame swooped in and hired Freeman to replace Clark Lea, who took over as Vanderbilt’s head coach.
- So, where does LSU turn from here after missing out on Freeman? Shea Dixon of 247Sports mentions a number of big-name candidates the Tigers could turn to, including former South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp and former Auburn DC Kevin Steele. Fansided’s Zach Ragan also names a handful of candidates for the position. Meanwhile, the Tigers could have another key spot to fill on the defensive side of the ball. Per reports, CB coach/recruiting coordinator Corey Raymond has received a strong offer to join Steve Sarkisian’s staff at Texas.
Coach O has never been shy about demanding the most from his assistants. He and Matt Canada only spent one year together. Same with Bo Pelini after the 2020 season. Hiring strong coordinators is a huge key to success in today’s college football landscape. Will Orgeron and the Tigers get it right heading into 2021?
The three 100-yard rushing performances in the College Football Playoff title game were from:
- Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State: 246 yards in the 2015 title game
- Derrick Henry, Alabama: 158 yards in the 2016 title game
- Clyde Edwards-Helaire: 110 yards in the 2020 title game
Will Najee Harris, Trey Sermon or another back join this elite group tonight?
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“If for some reason Coach Pruitt is no longer the head coach at the University of Tennessee, yes I would have a great deal of interest in that program.”
– Longtime NFL coach Jeff Fisher, a Tennessee resident, said during an appearance on 560AM/95.9 FM’s “The George Plaster Show” in Nashville last week that he’d be interested in leading the Vols if Jeremy Pruitt is fired. Could things get interesting this offseason on Rocky Top?
TWEET OF THE DAY
Ohio State walk-on long snapper Roen McCullough provided some bulletin-board material for Alabama ahead of tonight’s title game showdown. It’s probably safe to say that picture has been seen by most of the Alabama players. We’re sure Ohio State coach Ryan Day isn’t too happy this picture got out.