By Cole Frederick/Staff Correspondent
The Southeastern Conference postseason was headlined by Alabama’s 31-14 victory over Notre Dame in the Rose Bowl. The Crimson Tide will play in the national title game for the eighth time since the 2009 season. Against the Fighting Irish, Mac Jones threw for 297 yards and four touchdowns, while DeVonta Smith caught seven passes for 130 yards and three touchdowns en route to capturing the Heisman Trophy. Najee Harris added 125 yards on the ground, including a hurdle over a Notre Dame defender that will be a fixture on highlight reels in Bryant-Denny Stadium for years to come. Alabama will meet Ohio State in the championship game on Monday, Jan. 11. The Buckeyes upset Clemson in a dominant 49-28 victory in the Sugar Bowl.
Overall, the SEC finished 6-2 in the postseason. Georgia knocked off Cincinnati, 24-21, thanks to a late fourth quarter field goal. The Bulldogs finished the year at 8-2. Ole Miss knocked off No. 11 Indiana, 26-20, to help Lane Kiffin end his first year with a 5-5 record, while Mississippi State ended its season with two straight victories after upsetting No. 24 Tulsa, 28-26. The Bulldogs went 4-7 in Mike Leach’s inaugural season in Starkville. Kentucky improved to 5-6 with a narrow 23-21 win over North Carolina State, while Texas A&M capped a stellar 10-1 season with a 41-27 victory over North Carolina in the Orange Bowl.
The league’s only two losses came in the Sugar Bowl and the Citrus Bowl. Florida suffered a 55-20 blowout loss to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. Several Florida starters sat out the bowl game, including star tight end Kyle Pitts, but the Gators looked discombobulated from the start. Florida finished the season at 8-4, losing three consecutive games to end the year.
Auburn dropped its Citrus Bowl matchup with Northwestern, 35-19. The Tigers never matched the Wildcats’ energy or execution level at any point in the game. AU’s Tank Bigsby, Anthony Schwartz and Roger McCreary all sat out for various reasons, and the Tigers lacked consistency on both sides of the ball. Bo Nix threw for 292 yards and a touchdown, while freshman receiver Elijah Canion caught three passes for 80 yards and a score. Auburn finished the season at 6-5.
New Auburn head coach Bryan Harsin made important hires in recent days while putting together his coaching staff. Former Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason was hired as Auburn’s defensive coordinator, and former Georgia and South Carolina offensive coordinator Mike Bobo was hired to the same position on The Plains. Harsin needed some coaches with familia-rity to the conference and recruiting ties, and both coa-ches have experience in the SEC.
National Championship Preview and Prediction
The last time Alabama and Ohio State met, the Buckeyes upset the Tide, 42-35, in the 2014 semifinals of the first College Football Playoffs. Ohio State went on to win the national title, but Clemson has stood in the Buckeyes’ path in recent attempts to win another title. Second year head coach Ryan Day has OSU in the championship again, and this Alabama team features one of the best offenses in school history.
Ohio State has the firepower to score plenty against the Crimson Tide, but the Buckeyes have not proven capable of consistently slowing down elite offenses. The Buckeyes did hold Clemson to 28 points, but that was also the first time they’ve displayed that defensive prowess. Also, star Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle might be available for the first time since the Tennessee game in October. Even without Waddle, Alabama has been nearly unstoppable on offense. DeVonta Smith is the best player in college football, and he’s accompanied by two teammates who also finished in the top 5 of the Heisman voting. Mac Jones finished third and Najee Harris ended up fifth. It’s a star-studded UA offense supported by the best offensive line in the country, and Ohio State will likely need to score 40 points to have a chance. This is not an elite Alabama defense, but the Tide offense should be able to overcome any Justin Fields heroics.
Prediction: Alabama 45, Ohio State 38.