No one could stop Alabama in 2020. And on the first day of 2021, Notre Dame couldn’t do it, either.
Can Ohio State?
The top-ranked Crimson Tide have advanced to the College Football Playoff national championship game, defeating the fourth-ranked Fighting Irish 31-14 in the Rose Bowl semifinal on Friday.
Their next opponent: The third-ranked Buckeyes, who walloped No. 2 Clemson 49-28 to win the Sugar Bowl semifinal in front of a crowd of 3,000 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. Ohio State has played just seven games in this pandemic college football season but has won them all.
Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields had a sensational performance, throwing for six touchdowns – a Sugar Bowl record. What made it more remarkable was he accomplished the feat despite taking a vicious hit in the ribs in the first half by Clemson linebacker James Skalski. Skalski would be ejected for targeting.
“That hit really took a toll on me,” Fields said on ESPN. “My ribs were killing me pretty much all game. What pushed me through was the love for my brothers. I’m going to do anything for these guys.”
Now, Ohio State will face the only other undefeated team left in Alabama (12-0). It will be the first time the two teams have played since the inaugural CFP semifinals in the 2014 season, when Ohio State, then seeded fourth, upset the Crimson Tide and went on to win the national title.
The national championship game is scheduled for January 11 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.
Alabama’s DeVonta Smith ties Rose Bowl record with three TD catches
The Rose Bowl semifinal game had been moved from the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, because of Covid-19 pandemic restrictions. The game was relocated because families of the football teams would not have been able to attend the game in Pasadena.
The announced attendance Friday in Arlington was 18,373.
“We’ve played here (AT&T Stadium) before,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “I think this is one of the finest venues in college football. I don’t think that there’s anything quite like the Rose Bowl. The tradition, the setting, the mountains, it’s just a phenomenal experience to play in the Rose Bowl. I wish our players would have gotten that opportunity, but at the same time, these people did a phenomenal job of the transition from the Rose Bowl to here.”
Alabama was led by Heisman finalists Mac Jones and DeVonta Smith on offense. Jones completed 25 of 30 passes for 297 yards and four touchdowns. Smith, the first wide receiver to win The Associated Press’ player of the year award, caught seven passes for 130 yards, tying a Rose Bowl record with three touchdown catches. Additionally, Najee Harris rushed for 125 yards on 15 carries and had 30 receiving yards.
Notre Dame (10-2) ends the season with back-to-back lopsided losses, the other coming to Clemson in the ACC title game.
Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly did not appear to enjoy the line of questioning from reporters after once again losing in the College Football Playoff; Notre Dame lost 30-3 to Clemson in the semifinals two seasons ago.
“We’re not going away,” Kelly said. “Great year. It’s not where we wanted it. We wanted to win a national championship. But Notre Dame nation, you guys can get some sleep, recharge your battery, and we’re going to get ourselves back in this position again. So you don’t need to jump off a bridge, a building. We’re going to keep working, we’re going to rededicate ourselves in the offseason, back in the weight room, and we hope to get right back here in Dallas next year.”
Dabo Swinney had ranked Ohio State 11th in coaches’ poll – but doesn’t regret it
Ahead of the College Football Playoff, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney ranked Ohio State 11th with his vote in the coaches’ poll, explaining that the Buckeyes didn’t play enough games to be ranked higher than that.
Still, Swinney acknowledged heading into the game that Ohio State was good enough to win it all. But that didn’t matter to some of the few who were allowed to attend the Sugar Bowl. After the game, fans could be heard chanting “Dabo!” mockingly.
“I don’t have any regret any about that,” Swinney said. “The only thing I regret is I obviously didn’t do a good enough job getting my team ready.”
In addition to the Tigers’ loss, this very well may have been the final college game for Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who is expected to be the No. 1 pick in this spring’s NFL draft should he leave school early. The Jacksonville Jaguars have secured the top pick. Lawrence declined to talk to reporters about his future plans.
Lawrence won the national championship with Clemson as a freshman and lost in the national championship game last year to LSU. He only lost twice as a starter, both times inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“Obviously tonight didn’t go well, but I know that the way I prepared, the way this team prepared, and then just this whole year, the way we’ve carried ourselves, I’m proud of it,” Lawrence said. “I don’t have any regrets. There’s not much I’d go back and change.”
Clemson had reached last year’s national championship game with a win in the semifinals against the Buckeyes, and that game stuck with Fields and his Buckeyes teammates.
“I think that loss kind of fueled our whole offseason,” Fields said. “It really fueled our whole season.”