Miami's Hard Rock Stadium, host of last season's Super Bowl as the showpiece for the best teams in the NFL, was a fitting venue for the final of this unique, challenging and at times dazzling season of college football. The best players in college football from two traditional powerhouse schools demonstrated the skills that may see them in the Super Bowl one day.
Alabama were simply too good on the day, overpowering Ohio State 52-24. A strong showing from their defensive front seven nullified the significant threat of the Ohio State offensive line, and an injury to star running back Trey Sermon left the Buckeyes with, if not a mountain, then certainly a hill to climb from their opening drive onwards.
In a galaxy of stars, DeVonta Smith shone the brightest. His extraordinary statistics of 215 receiving yards and three touchdown catches was an impressive return for the final. That he did it essentially in the first half, before retiring with a dislocated finger, was little short of astonishing.
One of the Heisman Trophy winner's first sit-up-and-take-notice performances culminated in catching Tua Tagovailoa's winning touchdown throw as a freshman in the 2018 national championship win over Georgia. His performance in this year's final was a fitting end to his college career.
“. . . Heaven knows what he’d have done if he’d have played the whole game. You’re talking about the ultimate warrior.” - Alabama head coach Nick Saban
Mac Jones was ever-clinical, completing 36 of 45 pass attempts in throwing for 464 yards and five touchdowns, a national championship final record. The common thread amongst Jones, Smith and Najee Harris was their decision to return for their senior years and win a national championship. For Smith and Harris, it meant prolonging an inevitable landing spot in the NFL. Both were tipped as potential late first, certainly second round picks for last year's draft.
For Jones, however, his journey to the NFL as a day two, even day three pick, was far from certain. The Florida native was a member of the extraordinary 2017 Alabama recruiting class which will be up there with the greatest ever. Four first round picks including Tua Tagovailoa, Jedrick Wills, Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy last year, and likely Smith and Harris this year, and potentially tackle Alex Leatherwood and linebacker Dylan Moses this year.
Jones sat patiently behind Jalen Hurts and Tua, finally getting his chance in four games last year. He was expected to be the back up this year as Alabama lured five-star quarterback recruit Bryce Young to Tuscaloosa. Jones, however, simply refused to give up his starting job and flourished, developing into a likely first-round pick.
Harris delivered 158 all purpose yards and three touchdowns. His decision to return for his senior season was well justified. He won a national championship. His performances through the season, as part of the Jones-Smith-Harris offensive triumvirate, including a five-touchdown performance vs. Ole Miss, and in the final cemented his place as the best running back in college football.
“I think we’re the best team to ever play" - Alabama quarterback Mac Jones
He might not be far off. This Crimson Tide championship team is already being compared to last season's all-conquering LSU team led by Joe Burrow. While the title of greatest-ever is always up for debate, let's remember that Alabama had to contend with a regular season schedule filled with opponents all from the SEC, the nation's toughest conference, overcoming a resurgent Florida and Notre Dame to get to the final, and then beat an Ohio State that had embarrassed the consensus No.2, Clemson, in their previous game.
The mastermind behind this great season, and five more championships, is coach Nick Saban. Arguably the greatest college football coach, of all-time rather than just the present, Saban also had to overcome COVID-19 through the season, while steering Alabama to their first unbeaten season since 2009. Asked about his record-breaking seventh national title, while he stopped short of committing them to a greatest-ever tag, he certainly hinted at it:
"I just love this team so much, what they’ve been able to do, I can’t even put it into words.” - Nick Saban