When No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Ohio State take the field Monday night at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, it will mark the eighth time in 12 years that Nick Saban's Crimson Tide have competed in college football's national championship game.
Alabama has won five of the past seven such encounters, placing those Tide teams in elite territory, but only the 2009 squad obtained the crown with an undefeated record. This season's Alabama team is 12-0, having overcome 11 Southeastern Conference foes, Notre Dame in the national semifinal Rose Bowl and a coronavirus pandemic that has altered everyone's way of life.
Only Florida in the SEC title game has come within 15 points of Alabama, but only Georgia in the 2018 league championship contest challenged that season's Tide before they unraveled in a 44-16 loss to Clemson in the four-team playoff's title showdown.
"I think we'll be remembered for a lot already, because to do what we've done this season has been impressive," Alabama quarterback Mac Jones said. "We've got one more game, and it's the most important game. We're not satisfied with where we are, and people are going to put a lot of pressure on this game, but I'm super proud of our teammates and coaches and the fans for supporting us all season long.
"There's no added pressure, but at the same time, it's kind of what we signed up for coming to Alabama — to get a chance to play in a national championship and then hopefully win one."
Alabama's 2016 team also entered the national championship game with an undefeated mark before losing to Clemson 35-31 in the final seconds.
The only seasons in the past dozen years that haven't ended with Alabama playing for the crown were Auburn topping Oregon for the 2010 title, Florida State rallying past Auburn for the 2013 prize to end the BCS era, Ohio State thumping Oregon in the inaugural playoff the following season, and LSU whipping Clemson for last season's title.
By defeating the Big Ten champion Buckeyes, who turned countless heads with their 49-28 drubbing of Clemson in the national semifinal Sugar Bowl, Alabama would claim the title with seven wins over teams that were in The Associated Press top 10 at some point this season — Ohio State, Notre Dame, Florida, LSU, Auburn, Georgia and Texas A&M.
"Every team is different and every team has its own personality, so it's hard to compare teams," Saban said Sunday when asked what sets this season's Tide apart. "You always want your team to have great togetherness and be positive in their work, and the personality of this team has been really good all year in terms of how they bought in and established those qualities that make them a good team.
"I'm very proud of what this group has been able to accomplish and what they've done to this point to create this opportunity for themselves."
Ohio State has reached this point with a 7-0 record, and in mid-August, there wasn't an opportunity. The Big Ten announced Aug. 11 that it was cancelling its season due to COVID-19 concerns before reversing that decision on Sept. 16.
While Alabama's starting point this season was a 38-19 win at Missouri on Sept. 26, Ryan Day's Buckeyes didn't commence until a 52-17 humbling of visiting Nebraska on Oct. 24.
"When you think about that, it just emphasizes the point of just how chaotic these past three, four or five months have been," Day said Sunday. "There were some days when you woke up and didn't know which direction you were going in. Certainly there was a time when we didn't think we would have a season and weren't sure if we were going to restart a season, and it goes to show you how strong our guys have been.
"Every program has gone through some different version of it, and at some point we're going to sit back and go through all this stuff, but now is not the time. All the focus is on playing this game."
Ohio State had games canceled against Maryland, Illinois and Michigan due to positive COVID-19 tests and subsequent contact tracing. It was the first season in more than a century in which the Buckeyes and Wolverines didn't vie.
Alabama's biggest coronavirus storyline was Saban testing positive before the Iron Bowl, which resulted in offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian taking the reins in what became a 42-13 thumping of the No. 22 Tigers.
"I think we'll be remembered as a team that doesn't quit and as a team that shows real integrity," running back Najee Harris said. "Obviously we hope that we can win it all and go undefeated, but we've tried to worry about the small things first and then work up to the main event."
In five of the first six championship games of the College Football Playoff, the winning team has scored at least 35 points.
Alabama outlasted Clemson 45-40 in the title contest of the 2015 season, and Day was asked Sunday if his offense will be pressured to keep pace with a Tide attack boasting five All-Americans.
"They have a very good defense, and they're very well coached," Day said. "They have a powerful front and do a great job in the back end, too. You never know how games like this are going to play out.
"They are as talented of an offense and play as clean as I've seen, so we've got to be on our game, but you can't go into a game thinking about anything other than trying to get your first first down."
Alabama holds a 3-1 series lead over the Buckeyes, with wins in the Sugar Bowl after the 1977 season, the 1986 Kickoff Classic and the Citrus Bowl following the 1994 season. Ohio State won the most recent encounter, 42-35, in the national semifinal Sugar Bowl after the 2014 season. ... Freshman defensive back Malachi Moore, who sustained an undisclosed injury in the SEC championship game, is "very questionable" for this game, said Saban, who added that redshirt junior defensive lineman LaBryan Ray is "a little more probable." ... Saban said the availability of junior receiver Jaylen Waddle, who broke his ankle during the opening kickoff at Tennessee on Oct. 24, will be a game-time decision. ... Saban on his offensive staff preparing for this game with Sarkisian leaving afterward to become head coach at Texas: "I have no complaints at all with the way our coaches have handled the situation."