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Alabama, Ohio State travel different paths to title game

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Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Ohio State head coach Ryan Day, from left, quarterback Justin Fields and linebacker Tuf Borland hold up the trophy after the team's win against Clemson in the Sugar Bowl NCAA college football game Friday, Jan. 1, 2021, in New Orleans. Ohio State won 49-28. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Alabama breezed through the regular season and college football's semifinals, surviving a solitary scare in the Southeastern Conference championship game to reach its expected destination.

Ohio State wasn't exactly a shoo-in with its abbreviated schedule but resoundingly proved it belonged in the College Football Playoffs with a semifinal thrashing of Clemson.

The Buckeyes and Crimson Tide traveled different paths to get to Monday's title game at Hard Rock Stadium in South Florida, but both had to navigate the challenges of a pandemic-altered season

“I know this has been a little bit of a trying year for a lot of folks,” Nick Saban, the top-ranked Crimson Tide's coach, said Monday.

It's not a finale that could be taken for granted.

No. 3 Ohio State’s odyssey included an abbreviated Big Ten season with three games canceled because of COVID-19 issues, including the Buckeyes' own outbreak.

“This team, this program, we persevered through so much,” Ohio State running back Trey Sermon said Monday. "To have the opportunity to play on such a big stage, it means a lot to us.

“We’ve been through a lot. I mean, we fought to just play, and just to be able to get the job done, to make it to this level, it just means a lot to us.”