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Either Alabama or Ohio State have played in five of the six College Football Playoff National Championship games since the inception of the event in 2014, and one of those two has appeared in 10 of the past 14 national title games dating back into the Bowl Championship Series era. But through all that success, the Crimson Tide and Buckeyes have never faced each other with the sport’s ultimate title on the line. That will change Monday night when the two titans of college football square off for just the fifth time ever and battle for the 2021 CFP National Championship

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Though this matchup was in some ways predictable considering Ohio State and Alabama were ranked No. 2 and No. 3 in the first AP Top 25 of the season, the route for both programs to reach this game took some unforeseen twists. At one point, the Big Ten did not plan to play this fall, which would have eliminated the Buckeyes from participating in the CFP. Even once the league reversed course and decided to play, questions still abounded about whether Ohio State’s six regular-season games were enough to warrant CFP consideration.

Ohio State’s delayed start to the 2020 season, and a Clemson loss to Notre Dame on Nov. 7, opened the door for Alabama to ascend to No. 1 after a 6-0 start. By that point, an offense that entered the season with some question marks was proving to be one of the best in the country. The departures of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and premier receivers Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III cast doubt on whether this Crimson Tide team would return to the top of SEC after LSU’s dominant 2019 run. But led by Heisman Trophy winning wide receiver Devonta Smith, Alabama answered those questions in resounding fashion by steamrolling through 12 opponents by an average margin of victory of 29.2 points to reach the national title game.

Now, the stage is set for what should be a memorable conclusion to a historic campaign. After the cancellation or postponement of more than 100 games disrupted the flow of the season, there is just one game remaining, and it’s a matchup that’s been a long time coming. These two have met three times before in bowl games, including in a classic CFP semifinal game on Jan. 1, 2015, that Ohio State won 42-35.

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