Alabama Ends Pandemic Season by Overpowering Ohio State for Title

This stripped-down college football season, played in subdued stadiums without bands, mascots and much of the pageantry that make the sport so alluring, ended the way many others had before the pandemic — with Alabama as champion.

The Crimson Tide capped this tumultuous season on Monday night with an immaculate offensive performance, eviscerating Ohio State, 52-24, in the College Football Playoff championship in Miami Gardens, Fla.

It was the 13th national championship for Alabama, and the seventh over all for Saban, who won one at Louisiana State before arriving in Tuscaloosa to restore the shine to a program that became a national power under Bear Bryant.

The victory sent more than a thousand jubilant Alabama fans pouring into the streets of downtown Tuscaloosa, the home of the university, raising some of the same fears about the spread of the coronavirus that had dogged the season. Thousands of college athletes, coaches and staff members tested positive for the virus last year, a New York Times analysis found, including both of the coaches who led the teams in Monday’s title game, Saban and Ohio State’s Ryan Day.

This season, Smith was among a handful of Crimson Tide players, along with tackle Alex Leatherwood and running back Najee Harris, who returned rather than leave early for the N.F.L. They did so determined to boost their pro stock, but also to wash away the distaste of their last campaign, when they lost twice in the regular season for the first time in a decade — to national champion L.S.U. and rival Auburn — and were left out of the four-team playoff for the first time since it was instituted in 2014.

“Perseverance is probably the one word that describes this team the best,” Saban said in an on-field interview after the game.

And then, as if another reminder was necessary, about an hour before kickoff, Ohio State — beset by positive cases since November — announced that 13 players would be inactive, most presumably related to the virus.

Among them were two stalwarts on the defensive line — nose tackle Tommy Togiai and end Tyreke Smith — along with kicker Blake Haubeil and reserve running back Miyan Williams.

The Buckeyes roster got even thinner after one play.

Trey Sermon, the Oklahoma transfer who had emerged from the depth chart to rush for a school-record 331 yards in the Big Ten championship win over Northwestern, was driven to the turf after a short carry with a left shoulder injury and did not return.

That shifted an even greater burden onto Fields, who needed a painkilling injection to be able to play through a brutal hit — a helmet to the back ribs — in the semifinal win over Clemson. The injury turned Fields, a gifted physical runner, into a pocket passer, depriving the Buckeyes of another element of their attack.

“Nobody feels sorry for you, so you’ve just got to keep pushing forward,” Day said. “It’s kind of been the theme of the season.”

The Buckeyes, perhaps more than any other team in the country, were no strangers to disruptions. They had three games canceled, playing only eight games total, and Monday was the fourth consecutive game they had been missing at least a dozen players.

Ohio State hung with Alabama for a while — in part thanks to some munificence from the Crimson Tide. Jones fumbled at his own 19-yard line to set up one touchdown, Jordan Battle kept a drive alive with a helmet-to-helmet blow for which he was ejected and Patrick Surtain II dropped an interception in the end zone, which was followed by a field goal.

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