The College Football Playoff is finally here, and it begins Friday afternoon with the no. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide taking on the no. 4 Cincinnati Bearcats. The game is serving as the Cotton Bowl Classic and is being hosted at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Crimson Tide is currently listed as a 13.5-point favorite, with the over/under set at 57.5 points.
The biggest storyline of the game is the fact that Cincinnati made the CFP despite not playing in a power conference. But the Bearcats proved themselves every step of the way this year. They went 13-0, including a road win over Notre Dame early in the season and a convincing victory over Houston in the AAC Championship Game.
Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide endured a little bit of a rollercoaster this season but still ended up ranked no. 1 at the end of the season. Alabama had to overcome a midseason loss to Texas A&M and then three wins by a touchdown or less late in the season. However, the Tide steamrolled Georgia in the SEC Championship Game to secure a spot in the CFP.
Bryce Young’s performance in the SEC title game helped solidify the Heisman Trophy for him while also making Alabama the favorite heading into the playoff. On the season, Young had 43 touchdown passes and just four interceptions while averaging more than nine yards per pass. However, with John Metchie hurt, Jameson Williams is Alabama’s only bonafide difference-maker at wide receiver.
With the Tide down a playmaker on offense, the Alabama defense will need to step up a little more in this game. The Alabama defense gave up just over 20 points per game on the season and did enough down the stretch to help the Crimson Tide win close games. But despite an excellent pass rush led by Will Anderson, the Alabama defense did have occasional problems defending the pass, so the Tide can be vulnerable at times.
Nothing to Lose
While it’s fair to question the level of competition Cincinnati faced throughout the year, the Bearcats surely have the pieces to move the ball against any defense. Desmond Ridder is an experienced quarterback who is dangerous with his legs and took significant strides forward as a passer this year, completing nearly 66% of his passes and throwing just eight interceptions. Cincinnati also has running back Jerome Ford, who averaged 6.2 yards per carry and scored 19 rushing touchdowns.
Meanwhile, the Cincinnati defense is no pushover, holding 10 of 13 opponents to 20 points or less, including a top-5 Notre Dame team. The Bearcats are loaded with seniors and grad transfers on that side of the ball. They also averaged close to three sacks per game on the season and have high-level talent in the secondary.
Against the Tide
While there is skepticism, Cincinnati has done more than enough to get to this level, and the Bearcats aren’t going to go down without a fight. Plus, as impressive as the Crimson Tide looked the SEC Championship Game, they are far from flawless on both sides of the ball. Look for the Bearcats to hang around in this game and beat the 13.5-point spread.
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