Many national championship games have that battle within the battle, and Monday night's showdown between No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Ohio State in Miami Gardens will be no different.
Crimson Tide receiver DeVonta Smith and Buckeyes cornerback Shaun Wade were top-100 national recruits during the 2017 signing class, and now they're top-50 NFL draft prospects. Each is certain to be significantly wealthier in the months ahead, and there will be no greater stage in which to showcase their abilities before their professional careers begin.
It's a challenge eagerly awaited on both sides.
"You already know who I want to go up against," Wade said this week. "We've got to put the best on the best and go from there. DeVonta is a very great player. He's quick, shifty and fast, and you can see that on his highlights.
"He can do everything in the book as a receiver, and I'm just really looking forward to that matchup."
When Alabama sophomore receiver John Metchie was asked if one defender can slow Smith down, Metchie said, "Um, no."
Smith ran away with the Heisman Trophy earlier this week and enters Monday's clash with 105 receptions for 1,641 yards and 20 touchdowns. The 6-foot-1, 175-pounder from Amite, Louisiana, also scored via an 84-yard punt return in the 52-3 win at Arkansas on Dec. 12.
A 10-yard catch against the Buckeyes would give him 3,760 career yards, which would make him the Southeastern Conference's all-time leading receiver.
One of Smith's most impressive performances this season transpired at LSU on Dec. 5, when he racked up eight catches for a whopping 231 yards and three touchdowns in the Crimson Tide's 55-17 runaway. Much of that damage was inflicted at the expense of Tigers sophomore Derek Stingley Jr., who is projected to be the top cornerback taken in the 2022 NFL draft.
Smith often goes up against Crimson Tide junior corner Patrick Surtain II, the potential top cornerback pick in 2021, during practice, so it's not as if the 6-1, 195-pound Wade will be the first big challenge of his career.
"I'm looking forward to getting to play against him," Smith said. "He's very crafty and mixes his technique up some. He's a technician with everything he does. He's a great player."
Alabama quarterback Mac Jones has known Wade since their days growing up in Jacksonville, where Jones played at The Bolles School and Wade starred at Trinity Christian Academy. Jones and Wade played together and against one another in several 7-on-7 camps and expect to embrace regardless of Monday night's outcome.
"He's a great guy from a great family," Jones said. "He celebrates when he makes great plays, but he's more of a quiet guy and just kind of does his job. In high school, he was really humble for being a top recruit. At that time, I wasn't that highly recruited, but he always had my back in interviews or anything like that, so I've always appreciated him and his family.
"I'm happy for how he's played throughout his career at Ohio State."
Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban was asked again Thursday about the availability of junior receiver Jaylen Waddle and was unable to give a definitive response regarding Monday night's availability.
Waddle broke his ankle during the opening kickoff at Tennessee on Oct. 24.
"He has been able to practice some, but his status for the game is still relatively up in the air and will probably be a game-day decision," Saban said. "The issue with injuries is that when a guy does practice, how does he respond to the workload? If a guy practices one day and gets sore the next day, you can't practice him, so you just keep trying to build up his workload to where he might be able to play.
"It becomes a work in progress, and you really can't predict where he might be."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.