AP Poll: Will Alabama, Ohio State run wire to wire at No. 1 and No. 2?

Should we just lightly mark Alabama and Ohio State for the Jan. 9 College Football Playoff championship game?

The Crimson Tide and Buckeyes are ranked #1 and #2, respectively, in the AP and Coaches polls. Sporting News isn’t the only publication preemptively calling for a 2021 CFP Championship game rematch between powerhouses with the two best winning odds in the CFP era.

will it happen Sporting News examines the case for and against a Crimson Tide-Buckeyes championship game based on last season’s predictions.

BENDER: SEC forecasts | Big Ten Predictions

yes it will happen

Watch Sporting News 2023 NFL Draft Big Board. Alabama and Ohio State together have nine players on this list, including the top two quarterbacks in Bryce Young and CJ Stroud. They could be the top two picks in the 2023 NFL draft.

Alabama linebacker Will Anderson and cornerback Eli Ricks are in the top 10, along with Ohio State receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba.

These are the top two rosters in FBS. How often do the top two teams stay on this 1-2 collision course?

It’s happened twice in the 21st century, and both were matchups during the Bowl Championship Series era. USC and Oklahoma stayed in those two spots through the 2004 season, and they had four of the top five players in the Heisman poll in Matt Leinart, who won the award, along with Adrian Peterson, Jason White, and Reggie Bush. Of course, the Trojans hammered the Sooners 55-19 in the BCS Championship game at the Orange Bowl.

The next year is what everyone remembers. USC and Texas stayed at No. 1 and No. 2 all season. Bush won the Heisman ahead of Texas quarterback Vince Young, but the Longhorns won a 41-38 shootout at the BCS championship game at the Rose Bowl in a game that was on the shortlist of the best games of all time.

Alabama-Ohio State won’t quite feel like it, mostly because we saw it at the 2020 CFP Championship and 2014 CFP Semifinals. But that doesn’t mean they can’t stay on a collision course.

No, too many variables

No. 1 and No. 2 have not gone wire to wire in the CFP era, even if this matchup eventually materialized.

Take 2018, for example. Alabama and Clemson opened the season at No. 1 and No. 2, but the Tigers fell behind Georgia at No. 3 after Week 3. Clemson and Alabama stayed the course and were back at No. 1 and No. 2 for the last seven weeks of the regular season. Clemson defeated Alabama in the CFP championship game 44-16 in an undefeated battle.

Alabama faces the challenge of managing a tough SEC West schedule, not to mention the prospect of facing defending champion Georgia in the scheduled SEC championship game. The Bulldogs are ranked #3 in both polls, and there’s not much of a gap between them and the top two teams.

Ohio State also has a challenging schedule, starting with Notre Dame in the opener and defending Big Ten champion Michigan in the Big Ten regular-season finals. The Buckeyes are coming off a two-loss season in which defenses have not been good against Oregon and Michigan, and defense coordinator Jim Knowles was brought in from Oklahoma State to change that. This opener against the Irish means there’s no time to experiment early. This is a top 5 showdown with huge consequences.

Verdict: It will be Bama-OSU

It’s aligned, and it starts with the quarterbacks. Young and Stroud are the only two returning quarterbacks to have passed at least 3,000 yards and 30 TDs with a QB rating greater than 175 last season. They are efficient playmakers with loaded support throws on both sides of the ball.

MORE: Ohio state’s 2022 offense could be best ever

Those quarterbacks stood on the sidelines as future first-round picks Mac Jones and Justin Fields squared off in this 2021 CFP championship game that Alabama dominated 52-24.

It’s entirely possible for either team to lose a game, and that throws the wire-to-wire 1-2 thing down. But we bet the Crimson Tide and Buckeyes will win their conference championships. Alabama has won six of the last eight in the SEC, and Ohio State has won five of the last eight in the Big Ten. From there, each team wins a semifinal and sets up for a showdown on January 9, 2023 at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California.

It’s lightly drawn for now.

It won’t be long before you can use a permanent marker.

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