MIAMI, Jan. 11 (UPI) -- Ohio State and Alabama meet Monday for the finale of what has been an unprecedented college football season, rampant with positive COVID-19 tests, canceled games, player opt outs and more.
The College Football Playoff National Championship kicks off at 8 p.m. EST in Miami Gardens, Fla.
"I think it's been good for everyone that we've been able to play football, whether it's NFL football or college football," Alabama coach Nick Saban said Thursday.
"A lot of people have put a lot of time and effort throughout the country, throughout the NCAA, throughout every conference to try to create an atmosphere and environment which gave the players an opportunity to compete, the fans something to root for and look forward to, and I think that's a real positive thing."
About 16,000 fans have been cleared to attend Monday's game, the highest attendance for a major championship in the United States since Super Bowl LIV, which was held at the same stadium in February.
Alabama did not have any of its 10 games canceled this season, while Ohio State had three games canceled and played a five-game schedule. Saban and Ohio State coach Ryan Day each tested positive for COVID-19 during the season, in addition to several players from each team.
Alabama -- and other Southeastern Conference schools -- played a conference-only schedule and had a brief delay to the start of their campaign due to the pandemic.
Ohio State -- and other Big Ten teams -- canceled their fall football seasons before the conference reversed course. The Buckeyes began their season about a month later than the Crimson Tide.
"I would say, under the circumstances, that we're pleased with the way this season has gone and the number of games we've been able to play, the players having the opportunity to compete and now to culminate it with a playoff and a championship game," Saban said.
The Buckeyes continue to have issues with COVID-19 and could be without players for the title game due to positive tests and protocols. The teams discussed postponement, but the game still is expected to be played Monday.
The Buckeyes have played several games this season without many of their starters. Day called losing players to COVID-19-related issues a "gut punch," but said his team has gotten used to it.
"That's why the story about this season is just so amazing to me," Day said. "We just continued to push through despite all those difficult challenges along the way.
"And no different this week. We've got a new set of challenges this week. We're going to have to figure it out, go down to Miami and play."
Alabama offense vs. Ohio State defense
Alabama remains an 8-point favorite at most betting websites to win the game, which airs on ESPN. The Crimson Tide have been one of the most-successful programs in college football over the last decade.
On Monday, Alabama will play in its eighth national title game the last 12 years. They have won five of their previous 11 appearances.
Saban can also pass Bear Bryant for the most national titles (seven) in history with a victory.
Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith is the top offensive weapon for this year's Alabama squad. The Crimson Tide also have quarterback Mac Jones and running back Najee Harris in the backfield. That trio has helped the Crimson Tide score at least 30 points in every game this season.
"We've got one more game and it's the most important game," Jones said.
Jones on Thursday won the Davey O'Brien Award as the best quarterback in college football. Harris was named the best running back in college football and received the Doak Walker Award. Smith was named the best all-around player and the best wide receiver.
The Buckeyes ranked No. 9 this season in scoring with 42.5 points per game. They also had the No. 4 rushing offense in the country. The Crimson Tide ranked No. 5 in yards per game and No. 2 in points per game.
The Buckeyes have allowed the second-fewest rushing yards per game, but have struggled to defend the pass. Ohio State ranked No. 116 in passing yards allowed.
The Crimson Tide have also converted nearly 60% of their third-down attempts on offense, the best rate in college football.
When it comes to stopping the prolific Crimson Tide offense, the Buckeyes will lean on their secondary, but they may have to contend with another weapon: Jaylen Waddle.
The wide receiver is a game-time decision, but practiced last week for the first time since he sustained surgery on a broken ankle in October.
Alabama's defense will be tasked with stopping Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, who threw six touchdown passes in the Buckeyes' CFP Semifinal win over Clemson. If Ohio State can't slow down Alabama, the game could turn into a shootout between two star quarterbacks.
"All of the stuff that this team has been through and all the stuff that everybody has been through is big sacrifice just for this moment. We're just glad that we have the opportunity to play," Fields said.