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Cincinnati Bearcats quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) passes the ball. (Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire)
December 28th, 2021
The first College Football Playoff semifinal, the Cotton Bowl, features reigning national champion Alabama against Cincinnati, the first team from a Group of 5 conference in the CFP’s eight-year history.
Alabama, which is favored by nearly two touchdowns, enters with a 12-1 record after blowing out favored Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. Bryce Young and Will Anderson Jr., respective winners of the Heisman Trophy and Nagurski Trophy, are capable of wreaking havoc.
The Tide averaged 42.5 points per game, and their top-10 defense recorded 46 sacks.
Cincinnati finished 13-0, and the AAC champion handed No. 6 Notre Dame its lone defeat, winning by double digits in South Bend. The Bearcats are led by strong-armed Desmond Ridder, a top NFL prospect.
How Cincinnati’s experienced offensive line performs will be key: Alabama didn’t have a sack in its only loss (Texas A&M).
After shredding Georgia’s outstanding defense, logging 536 total yards, Alabama will look to score early and often against Cincinnati.
Young, who picks apart opponents when facing no pressure in the pocket, had all day to throw against Georgia, and Jameson Williams (21.3 yards per reception during the season) caught seven passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns.
BRYCE YOUNG WINS THE HEISMAN TROPHY 🏆He is the first Alabama QB to win college football's most prestigious award 👏 pic.twitter.com/sdEQCrr0J6— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 12, 2021
BRYCE YOUNG WINS THE HEISMAN TROPHY 🏆He is the first Alabama QB to win college football's most prestigious award 👏 pic.twitter.com/sdEQCrr0J6
The Crimson Tide will miss a dynamic presence, John Metchie III, who was injured against Georgia after leading the way with 96 catches for 1,142 yards this season.
On defense, Alabama set the tone against Georgia by dominating up front. The defensive line and linebacker corps are very good, and they’ll look to apply pressure every time Ridder drops back to pass.
Georgia’s run-based offense couldn’t exploit the secondary, but Alabama is susceptible on the back end, ranking 62nd against the pass by allowing 223.3 passing yards per game. Whether Cincinnati gets the opportunities to throw downfield remains to be seen.
It’s easy to envision Alabama winning easily if the Tide show up with their best, but this is a trap spot. The Tide knew Georgia’s tendencies, and after winning straight up as a six-point underdog, they must avoid a letdown against an unknown foe from a lesser conference.
All-American cornerbacks Ahmad Gardner and Coby Bryant are projected high draft picks, and Cincinnati will leave them isolated so they can rush Young. Gardner hasn’t given up a touchdown this season, or allowed more than 20 receiving yards, and both corners must perform well for Cincinnati to stay in the game.
Ahmad Gardner MY GOODNESS 😳😳.#AmericanPow6r pic.twitter.com/rqQMjKVS5M— American Football (@American_FB) December 4, 2021
Ahmad Gardner MY GOODNESS 😳😳.#AmericanPow6r pic.twitter.com/rqQMjKVS5M
Ridder threw for 3,190 yards and 30 touchdowns, and his ability to scramble (421 rushing yards) allows Cincinnati to sustain scoring drives. And while the Bearcats can’t recruit on the national scale like high-profile programs, they’ve done an excellent job building the offensive line.
It’s a major strength. Big and fast up front, Cincinnati utilizes a balanced attack with Alabama transfer Jerome Ford (6.2 yards per carry), who led the AAC in rushing.
A six-time champion under Nick Saban, Alabama can throw fear into opponents prior to the kickoff — last year’s squad was a juggernaut — but this isn’t a stellar Saban team.
It’s surprising to see them rely on the passing game, ranking an uncharacteristic 80th nationally in rushing yards per game, and Alabama was prone to uneven performances, producing a 6-6 record against the spread when favored.
It won’t be easy to replace their leading receiver (Metchie) against Cincinnati’s formidable pass defense.
Cincinnati wasn’t intimidated when facing Georgia in last year’s Sugar Bowl, losing a heartbreaker by three points, and this year’s squad is better.
The Notre Dame win was no fluke. Cincinnati controlled both lines of scrimmage, holding the Irish to a season-low 13 points (Notre Dame averaged 35.2 points this season). After winning 23 of his last 24 games, Ridder will have success against a vulnerable Alabama secondary.
Cincinnati may not win, but it will give Alabama a challenge and cover the lofty point spread.
Our predictive engine is calling for Alabama to win outright.
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