Alabama is a roughly two-touchdown favorite in the Cotton Bowl semifinal after a win against Georgia of 41-24 to win the SEC championship. Under coach Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide seek to win their seventh consecutive championship.
Cincinnati is unable to resist this dominance and takes the stage at the largest conference tournament. The Bearcats, however, have been steadily building this level for many years under Luke Fickell. They have the experience, talent and confidence to face the challenges posed by Crimson Tide.
Alabama was considered one of the best teams in the country, but it was far from being a dominant forcehouse during the regular season. This was especially true after the loss to Texas A&M.
The Tide relied almost exclusively on Bryce Young, the Heisman Trophy winner, to carry them later in October and November. They almost lost to Auburn, LSU, and Arkansas in close games. Atlanta's win changed everything about the semifinals and the eventual championship game. Alabama is now more than a heavy favorite against Cincinnati.
Cincinnati is the greatest Cinderella in college football history. However, the Bearcats don't have to struggle for star power. Fickell is a rising star in the field. Quarterback Desmond Ridder, one of the most successful quarterbacks in Group of Five's history, is undoubtedly Fickell. Sauce Gardner, defensive back, has been named multiple times All-America.
Predictions for the game
The bottom line is that Alabama is too strong and too skilled to allow Cincinnati (or any other team) to stop them from winning their second consecutive title game. The Bearcats have one hope: to make the Crimson Tide undimensional by establishing a pass rush that is decent and allowing its secondary to take four to five passes from Bryce Young, who is a talented right-handed player. Alabama 42, Cincinnati 30.
Cincinnati's win in the College Football Playoff is a great achievement. It brings some life to a system that has become a bit boring. However, I doubt the Bearcats will have much chance. Nick Saban's method ensures that his team does not overlook their opponent in such a big spot. This is evident by Will Anderson's absurd suggestion that Crimson Tide were underdogs. This mindset, combined with the overwhelming talent of Bryce Young, a quarterback the Bearcats have never had to compete with, will see Alabama reach the national title game again. Alabama 41, Cincinnati 21.
Cincinnati's secondary was able to work with Alabama's receivers, and slow down Alabama's passing game. The Bearcats' problem could be how they play with the large bodies on Alabama’s offensive and defense lines. If Bryce Young is kept clean, offense wise the Tide are in great shape. Alabama 34, Cincinnati 21.
Cincinnati's win in the College Football Playoff was an amazing story. It was also a right reward for the Bearcats following their outstanding season. However, facing Alabama is a different task than beating Notre Dame and running through the American Athletic. Bryce Young will be able to connect with Jameson Williams, and Desmond Ridder will not be able to win going away. Alabama 34, Cincinnati 13.
Let me be clear: Cincinnati could win this game. Desmond Ridder, a formidable competitor and Bearcats secondary, can match up against the Tide's receiving unit. Alabama cannot just win with its ground game as it did with previous teams. It is often foolish to pick against Alabama at this stage of the season. The Tide will play against Georgia like they did against Georgia. Alabama 34, Cincinnati 23.
Alabama's inconsistent play this season is notable. Cincinnati may be able to complicate matters by putting pressure on Bryce Young. It will be difficult for Cincinnati to move it, and Nick Saban needs to be prepared. Alabama 31, Cincinnati 14.
Who has the edge?
When Alabama runs
In their two previous games, the Bearcats allowed 1.6 yards per carries. Alabama's running game has been unable to compete against the best, with an average of 3.6 yards per run against Power Five opponents. This is where Cincinnati's defense could have a real advantage. EDGE: Cincinnati.
Cincinnati's pass defense ranks among the top in the country. After allowing just 10 touchdown passes and 18 interceptions in the regular season, the Bearcats are the FBS's best efficiency defense (100.5). Bryce Young, however, and the Crimson Tide represent a completely different animal. Although the Bearcats make it difficult for the Tide to work, no defense has been able to stop this passing game. EDGE: Alabama.
As the Bearcats' main back, Jerome Ford (1.243 yards and 19 touchdowns), has been outstanding. To get more involved on ground, look for Desmond Ridder (361 yard). Alabama's run defense is one of the most impressive in the country, with the exception of Florida's game. EDGE: Alabama.
Cincinnati will be gone when it is over
Since November began, the passing game has been explosive. This is a good sign for an offense that wants every pass attempt to be maximized and tries to beat Alabama deep. While the Crimson Tide are able to pass rush and make it difficult for opponents up front, the secondary is not as strong as the groups of the recent past. EDGE: Draw.
Cincinnati survived despite having a very inconsistent kicking game. Six teams had fewer field goals than the regular season, and none of them hit on a lower percentage (41.2%). Cincinnati will need every point possible. EDGE: Alabama.
Luke Fickell transformed Cincinnati into a major player. There is only one Nick Saban. He is a master at making the most of extra time and has his team ready for anything. EDGE: Alabama.