Rob Oller: Doughnut or hole? Either way, Ohio State vs. Alabama will be delicious

Rob Oller
Buckeye Xtra

A little ditty I like to roll out every now and then goes like this: “The optimist and the pessimist, the difference is quite droll. The optimist sees the doughnut; the pessimist sees the hole.”

Where are you on the doughnut positivity scale? Yeast or least? If both, you hit the sweet spot, so to speak. There is no hole without the doughnut. And any doughnut worth a dime includes a hole, no matter what the jelly-filled crowd claims.

Here then, we present a series of two competing possibilities for Ohio State as the No. 3 Buckeyes prepare for No. 1 Alabama in Monday’s College Football Playoff national championship game.

Will quarterback Justin Fields be healthy enough to perform up to snuff, given he took a shot to the torso against Clemson in the Jan. 1 Sugar Bowl? (I was told it was never specifically a rib injury.)

Doughnut: Heck yes, he’ll be good to go. As previously mentioned in this space, if the Ohio State medical staff felt it was safe to send Fields back in against Clemson — after which he played surprisingly well, considering the pain he was in, throwing three of his six touchdown passes — then 10 more days of recovery will have him operating at close to 100%.

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Quarterback Justin Fields and coach Ryan Day have proved to be a potent team for Ohio State. The health of one and the embracing of the moment  of the other might determine whether the Buckeyes win a national title on Monday against Alabama.

Hole: Anything less than Fields at 100% and the Buckeyes might as well call it a night before taking the field. This is Al-a-bam-a, not Northwestern. Or even Clemson. We saw how well Fields performed against two of the three best opponents Ohio State faced, struggling against the Wildcats (two interceptions) and Indiana (three interceptions). If Fields’ ability to throw is limited by a sore midsection, this could be a 20-point loss.

• The Buckeyes spent an entire year preparing for a rematch against Clemson, which broke Ohio State’s heart in the 2019 Fiesta Bowl. Is there enough emotional gas left in OSU’s tank to take down Alabama?

Doughnut: Just like in 2014, the Buckeyes are riding a wave of confidence and precise execution that translates into elite results. Never in the modern era has Ohio State strung three consecutive performances together like it did in defeating Wisconsin 59-0 in the Big Ten championship game, Alabama 42-35 in the CFP semifinal and Oregon 42-20 in the national championship game. Bing, bang, boom.

No reason to think it won’t happen back-to-back in 2020. If in 2014 the Buckeyes mustered enough emotional energy to upset Alabama without having a letdown against Oregon, then assume it won’t be any different this time around.

The ’14 Sugar Bowl win against Alabama was especially satisfying for fans, considering that until then the Buckeyes were 0-3 against the Crimson Tide. Likewise, thumping Clemson, which was 4-0 against OSU, was a New Year’s Day treat. That positive outlook will pull the Buckeyes through.

Hole: Hold on. What about 2006, when No. 1 Ohio State put everything into beating No. 2 Michigan 42-39 in Columbus, only to get embarrassed by Florida 41-14 in the BCS championship game? Yes, the title game was 51 days after Michigan, but the premise holds that it is extremely difficult for a college roster filled with teenagers to bank one emotional win on top of another. After going all-in against the Tigers, it may well be that the Buckeyes have peaked.

• Adrenaline aside, can Ohio State be expected to play as well against Alabama as it did against Clemson, which will need to be the case if the Buckeyes are to have a chance on Monday?

Doughnut: Only a chance to win? Come on. If the Scarlet and Gray put things together on offense and defense like what happened against Clemson, the Crimson Tide is in more than a little trouble. For one thing, 'Bama’s offense may be practically unstoppable, but its defense is only above-average, and its secondary, at times, is only ordinary. 

Need more positivity? Look at it from the standpoint of recruiting. Ohio State consistently comes closer to matching Alabama’s recruiting prowess than any other program. In other words, the talent differential is really close.

Hole: Those positives sound like backhanded compliments. Not only are the doughnuts acknowledging that Alabama is better at recruiting, but also that the offense coordinated by Steve Sarkisian is generationally explosive. Oh, and it gets to face an Ohio State secondary that is no better than Alabama’s. Face it, the Buckeyes reached their ceiling against Clemson.

• If it comes down to coaching, can Ryan Day go toe-to-toe against Nick Saban and not get knocked to the canvas?

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Doughnut: Saban, it seems, is slipping, maybe not as a recruiter but definitely on the sideline. He is 69 and it shows in his body language. Coach Saban, as numerous members of the Alabama media insist on calling him, looks increasingly tired. Is he still dangerous? Of course, but consider that his last loss was to LSU’s Ed Orgeron, who except for the mumbling is never going to be Bill Belichick. Day, meanwhile, is at the top of his game. Or maybe you missed that he is 23-1 with the Buckeyes?

Hole: Scoreboard. Saban has won five national championships at Alabama and one at LSU. Diminish him at risk of embarrassment. 

Doughnut or hole? Where you at? Regardless, it should be a delicious game to watch. 

roller@dispatch.com

@rollerCD

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