The College Football Playoffs will begin on New Year’s Eve in the Cotton Bowl as the Alabama Crimson Tide face the Cincinnati Bearcats.
This is truly a “David versus Goliath” matchup with the standard program in college football, Alabama, looking for back-to-back titles for the first time since (2011-12), facing a Group of Five opponent. The Bearcats made history becoming the first from the Group of Five to qualify for the CFP. Their reward? A chance to do battle with the bully from Tuscaloosa.
— ESPN (@espn) December 5, 2021
How Alabama Got Here: Tide Overcame Some Adversity
The Crimson Tide came into the season ranked No.1 following their wire-to-wire run in 2020 behind Mac Jones, Najee Harris and Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith. But all those players moved onto the NFL as first-round draft picks. Enter Bryce Young, Brian Robinson and Ohio State transfer Jameson Williams.
Things were normal for the Tide until an October visit to College Station in which they were upset 41-38 by the Texas A&M Aggies. That shocking loss gave the Tide no more wriggle room if it wanted to make the CFP for the seventh time in the tournament’s eight-year history. Led by Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young on offense, Will Anderson Jr. on defense and Nick Saban constantly speaking of “rat poison,” the Tide righted the ship and narrowly escaped further disaster several times.
Bryce Young: “Coming to Bama is where you come for pressure and expectations” pic.twitter.com/Mh9QwsicOT
— Nick Kelly (@_NickKelly) August 19, 2021
Close scares at home against LSU and Arkansas and a quadruple-overtime, season-defining win at archrival Auburn. A game which saw ‘Bama struggle until Bryce Young took them 97 yards in under two minutes to force OT.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 28, 2021
Young wasn’t done. He then shredded the No. 1-ranked Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC Championship Game to the tune of 461 total yards, including 421 through the air. He also accounted for four touchdowns.
How The Bearcats Crashed The CFP Party
Led by head coach Luke Fickell, quarterback Desmond Ridder and Alabama transfer running back Jerome Ford, the Bearcats have only lost one game the past two seasons. A 24-21 loss to the Georgia Bulldogs in last season’s Peach Bowl after leading 17-0. Now they get a crack at the best team in the land year-in and year-out. The Bearcats are battle-tested but to a much lesser degree than the Crimson Tide. They also survived some scares to get here, from Navy and Tulsa.
To have any shot the Bearcats will need a Herculean effort from Ridder, plus they’ll need to shorten the game with a good rushing attack. That’s easier said than done against that ’Bama front. They’ll also need to force some turnovers. Cincy is hoping its dynamic duo at cornerback will be able to hold up against the talented stable of wide receivers Alabama will throw at them.
The caliber of receivers ’Bama brings to the gridiron is rarely seen in the ACC. But Chauncey “Sauce” Gardner and Coby Bryant are capable. In fact, Bryant was named the Jim Thorpe Award winner, given annually to the nation’s top defensive back.
With the tale of the tape now given …
Nick Saban won’t allow his guys overlook the Bearcats. The Alabama run game led by a healthy Brian Robinson is going to shred the Bearcats’ 3-3-5 defensive alignment designed to take away the pass. And when Cincy has to bring extra defenders into the box to stop the run, Young will hit big passing plays to standout transfer Jameson Williams and others.
The Bearcats have nothing to lose, so expect them to try a bevy of things, including trick plays, insides kicks, fake punts, and go for it fourth down in weird spots.
Cotton Bowl Co-MVPs
Bryce Young/ Brian Robinson
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