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Cotton Bowl Preview and Predictions: Cincinnati vs Alabama

Who will advance?
CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 04: Cincinnati Bearcats running back Jerome Ford (24) carries the ball for a touchdown during the game against the Houston Cougars and the Cincinnati Bearcats on December 4, 2021, at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati, OH. (Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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Ok, it’s time for the College Football version of David and Goliath as the Crimson Tide roll into the Cotton Bowl to battle one of them have not’s the Cincinnati Bearcats. This is the first time the college football playoffs have allowed a have not to play in this game. The Bearcats are given little to no chance in this game, and that perception is pushed by the ESPN’s of the world. Let’s face it, a non-power team in this playoff is terrible for business. Is this game the mismatch that it’s cracked up to be? The simple answer here is no; it’s not. The Bearcats belong, and if you don’t believe me, ask Notre Dame? Will Cincinnati win? Let’s take a look at how these teams match up?

Bama on Offense

For my money, Bryce Young is the best quarterback that the Crimson Tide have had since the 1960s; he is that good! The Crimson Tide are explosive on offense mainly because of the passing game; the Crimson Tide averaged 42.5 points a game and 6.7 yards per snap this fall and paced the SEC with 12 plays of 50-plus yards. Sophomore sensation Bryce Young passed for 4,322 yards and 43 touchdowns to only four picks in the regular season. Also, he connected on 68 per cent of his throws, averaged 9.4 yards per attempt, and boasted a 175.5 quarterback rating. An injury has cut into a lot of the explosiveness of the Alabama offense as star receiver John Metchie III tore his ACL late in the second quarter of the SEC title game. Metchie led the team with 96 receptions, turning those catches into 1,142 yards and eight scores. With Metchie out, more defensive focus can shift to big-play weapon Jameson Williams (68 rec., 1,445 yds., 15 TDs).

The injury to Metchie means somebody is going to have to step up the top candidates for that position would seem to be Slade Bolden (32 rec.), Traeshon Holden (15), Javon Baker (seven), and JoJo Earle (12), one if not more of these players will have to step there game up to help Young out.

Brian Robinson Jr. will lead the running game. He leads the ground game for offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien with 1,071 yards and 14 touchdowns. He should be closer to 100 per cent after a leg injury against Auburn forced him to play at less than full strength in the SEC title game. The Tide only averaged 4.1 yards per carry this season, and the offensive line has been an issue most of the season. They did as a group play exceptionally well in the SEC Championship Game, but will we get that group or the offensive line that struggled much of the season?

The Bearcats on defense

The Bearcats biggest strength is that they don’t give up big explosive plays on offense, and no team scored more than 28 points in a game this season. For the season, the Bearcats held opponents to 16 points per game. Only one team (Tulsa) rushed for more than 200 yards against Cincinnati, as this unit limited teams to 3.3 yards per carry. The Bearcats over the last two years have at times struggled against the run, which can be worrisome and against the Crimson Tide, that can’t happen if UC wants to get the win. The Secondary is the strength of this team, and they will be the best secondary that Alabama has faced this season. They are led by a tandem of Cornerbacks that will play on Sundays in Sauce Gardner and Coby Bryant. The Bearcats defense has limited opposing offenses to just ten passing scores and ranked No. 1 nationally in pass efficiency defense. The Bearcats are better than any team that Bama has faced this season on the defensive front. The Bearcats have four first-team All-AAC selections — linemen Myjai Sanders and Curtis Brooks and linebackers Darrian Beavers and Joel Dublanko. The Bearcats can get after the passer, and that’s what LSU and Auburn did in their near upsets of the Crimson Tide. Alabama has issues with teams that bring pressure from all over, and I expect that is precisely what the Bearcats have planned.

The Bearcats matchup here is much better than people think; the Bearcats are not your typical non-power team as they are huge upfront and athletic on the backside of the defense.

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The Bearcats on Offense

Much like Alabama, the Bearcats offense is driven by the quarterback position; Desmond Ridder — a four-year starter — piloted the Bearcats to an average of 39.2 points a game and 6.93 yards per play this season. Cincinnati has scored at least 30 points in 10 of its 13 games and averaged at least 6.7 yards per play in each of the last five contests. Ridder does have a knack for being a little streaky during games. He has improved on being able to beat teams with his feet, and Alabama has had trouble with quarterbacks like that historically. Ridder has proven to be clutch in big situations in last year’s Peach Bowl loss versus Georgia; Ridder connected on 24 of 37 throws for 206 yards and two touchdowns, and in a critical victory against Notre Dame this year fall, the senior scored three times and totalled 323 yards.

The receiver is not a position where the Bearcats look great, but they have weapons like Alec Pierce, who has been Ridder’s favorite target in 2021, catching 50 passes for 867 yards and eight scores. Tyler Scott (26 rec.), Tre Tucker (32), and Michael Young (24) round out the top contributors at receiver in the regular season. Tight end Josh While (25) and Leonard Taylor (27) are x-factors to watch on Friday. The two tight ends have combined for ten touchdowns and are considerable threats in the RedZone.

Jerome Ford ran back for 1,243 yards and 19 touchdowns this season and led the AAC with six rushes of 40-plus yards. The Alabama transfer had five 100-yard efforts, including 187 in the AAC title game over Houston. If Ford can bust a big run or two, it can slow down the Bama pass rush, which will be a massive key for Cincinnati to have a shot to win this game.

Alabama on defense

Only one of Alabama’s last seven opponents (Arkansas) has eclipsed more than 24 points. Opposing teams have struggled to find any running room against this defense (just 82.8 rushing yards a game allowed). The pass rush (46 sacks) led by Bronko Nagurski Trophy-winning linebacker Will Anderson Jr. has been relentless. The front-seven is the strength for Alabama’s defense, but there is a weakness to exploit on Alabama’s defense, and that’s a secondary that ranked 66th nationally against the pass. Can the Bearcats effectively block Anderson? I would highly doubt it because nobody else has. They have to contain Anderson, not shut him down; if Anderson is dominant, the Bearcats could be in trouble.

Prediction

This moment will not be too big for either team as Cincinnati is a senior-laden roster with an experienced head coach who has been in massive games throughout his career. In the end, we see Cincinnati jump up quick and then Alabama’s depth and strength on the defensive line make this a close game until the end. Cincinnati has issues with the kicking game all year, which could be their huge downfall here. Overall I am going with the senior-laden Bearcats here. Ridder has been a winner his whole career, and he will make enough plays with his legs to get some points on the board for the Bearcats. Alabama will struggle in the passing game, and by struggle, I mean they will have a hard time getting the explosive plays they are used to getting against the Bearcats secondary. I know I will be called stupid and crazy for this, but my prediction is! Pick  Cincinnati 24  Alabama 21

 

 

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