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Mark Podolski: ESPN's Robert Smith says it'll be Alabama-Ohio State

Robert Smith returns to ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn. in August to resume his role as college football analyst but he's already set with his national championship game prediction.

"It looks like an Ohio State-Alabama matchup to me," Smith said in a phone interview with The News-Herald. "I have to give the edge to Alabama because of the experience and having been through that situation, and their level of competition all year long. (Alabama and Ohio State) definitely shape up as 1-2 right now."

Pegging Alabama, or another strong Southeastern Conference team, into the last BCS National Championship Game (the College Football Playoff starts next season) isn't a bad idea. The conference has won seven straight national championships, the first to start that streak was Urban Meyer-led Florida in 2006, when it thumped Ohio State.

The next season, the Buckeyes again played for the title, but was roughed up again, this time by LSU. OSU hasn't been back to the national championship game since.

Smith expects that to change in 2013, but those hopes will hinge on the development of junior quarterback Braxton Miller, who will surely be a top Heisman Trophy candidate.

Last season, Miller threw for 2,039 and 15 touchdowns, but made the biggest impact as a runner, gaining 1,271 yards and scoring 13 more TDs, as OSU went 12-0.

If the Buckeyes pull off another perfect regular season, win the Big Ten championship game and face off against the likely preseason No. 1 Crimson Tide, Miller will have his hands full, according to Smith.

However, recently success by last year's Heisman winner, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, against Alabama can provide a blueprint for Miller and the Buckeyes should a BCS matchup be in the offing.

"With any quarterback, you need consistency in reads and consistency in delivery because against Alabama you're not going to be able to run the ball at will," said Smith. "That secondary for Alabama, for the most part, is being coached by Nick Saban. It's his baby, the secondary. In the past, (Saban's) felt very comfortable with quick pre-snap changes, shifting their coverage looks around a lot (to confuse the quarterback). So I think Braxton needs to get better on fly and think, ‘This is what I'm seeing, but this is what this coverage has become, anticipate a weak spot, and exploit it."

"If he can use his legs and his arm properly, and improves those skills, they've got a chance (against Alabama)."

A few other things that have caught my attention:

- Love the decision by the Indians to promote top prospect Francisco Lindor from Advanced Single-A Carolina to Double-A Akron. Lindor, a shortstop, is just 19, and it's rare for a player that age to play in Double-A. My interest level is sky-high to see how much Lindor has developed since he playing last season for Lake County, where he was raw, but talented. Expect Lindor to debut for the Aeros, home this week until Wednesday, on Monday or Tuesday. Staff Writer David S. Glasier will be there to chronicle Lindor's return to Ohio.

- The All-Star Break is upon us, but don't worry, we'll have plenty of Indians stories this week. Beat writer Jim Ingraham sat down with Tribe general manager Chris Antonnetti last week, so look for the Q&A on Tuesday. Plus, Ingraham looks ahead and breaks down the Indians' second half in Friday's editions. Staff Writer Bob Finnan has a story on the key to Manager Terry Francona's and his team's first-half success.

- Our 50 for 50 project continues as we're in the process of ranking the 50 greatest area high school football teams from the past 50 years. We would like your help as well. This week we'll debut an online and print ballot asking for your all-time top 10 teams since 1963 (we'll spare you ranking all 50). Ballots will include the 50 teams we'll rank, but won't appear in our order. Check this week in print and at www.News-Herald.com for details.

- Color me skeptical about the Cavaliers signing of free-agent Andrew Bynum, who's battled knee problems his entire career, but the move comes with little risk financially. It's a gamble, but not a huge one making a move on Bynum. There's no doubt the Cavs' brass are crossing their fingers Bynum delivers. At the least, the Cavaliers seem relevant again, so that's a positive step.

- Reminder if you haven't signed up for the Johnnycake Jog, this is the week to do it. The race is Sunday at the Lake County Fairgrounds in Painesville.

- If you weren't at Classic Park for a screening of the family film, "The Sandlot," you missed a fun night. The weather was perfect and watching the movie from the outfield grass was a special treat, especially for all the children in attendance, including my son. If the Captains ever entertain this idea again, here's my suggestion: Show "The Natural," starring Robert Redford.

- Such a sad story with the passing of former Mayfield baseball and basketball standout and former St. Bonaventure pitcher Andrew Revello, who died Wednesday from injuries sustained in a car wreck. The Mayfield community is a strong one, so I'm sure support is there for the Revello family.

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