New Year’s Eve this year is headlined by the College Football Playoff, and it all begins on Friday with No. 1 Alabama taking on No. 4 Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas. The Crimson Tide are aiming to repeat as national champions, while the Bearcats will make history on Friday as the first Group of Five team to take the field in a CFP game.
Alabama muscled its way to the top of the final CFP Rankings by crushing Georgia 41-24 in the SEC Championship Game behind a sensational day from Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Bryce Young. On the other side, Cincinnati broke into the field after finishing a second consecutive undefeated regular season and winning the American. The Bearcats needed a little help from Big 12 champion Baylor to overcome two SEC teams making the field but now have a Group of Five team’s first opportunity to win a playoff game.
Alabama and Cincinnati have played five times with the Tide winning all five matchups. However, none of the matchups have come since 1990. Bearcats coach Luke Fickell is 48-14 in five seasons with eight of the losses coming during a transitional first year. Cincinnati has never won a national championship.
Alabama vs. Cincinnati: Need to know
Making history: Heading into the 2021 season, no Group of Five team had ever finished higher than No. 7 in the final rankings. After completing a second consecutive undefeated regular season, Cincinnati finally broke through the glass ceiling to become the first non-Power Five team in the field. The Bearcats’ reward for making history? A showdown with the greatest dynasty in the history of college football. Cincinnati has never won a national championship, while Nick Saban has won three in the playoff era alone.
Sauce vs. Speed: Perhaps the best matchup of the entire playoff will take place on the outside. Alabama receiver Jameson Williams nearly beat Georgia singlehandedly in the SEC title game, but he faces his toughest test yet. Cincinnati cornerback Coby Bryant won the Thorpe Award as the best defensive back in America — and projected first-round NFL Draft pick Ahmad Gardner is even better. Especially with WR John Metchie out, Williams vs. the corners will define whether Alabama can pull away.
Heisman Bryce: For the fourth time since 2009, an Alabama player went home with the Heisman Trophy. Sophomore quarterback Bryce Young is the first Bama signal-caller to win the sport’s ultimate prize after throwing for 4,322 yards and 43 touchdowns in his first year as a starter. Young was magnificent against Georgia’s top-ranked defense, throwing for 421 yards and three touchdowns while adding 40 rushing yards and a score. Cincinnati will need to fight to get pressure against Young without committing extra defenders; Young’s completion percentage drops from 75.5% in a clean pocket to 47.8% when the pass rush gets home.
NFL talent: While Cincinnati is a Group of Five team, there’s legitimate NFL talent at every level. The Bearcats have two players ranked in the top 51 players of the CBS Sports NFL Draft prospect rankings — Gardner at No. 17 and defensive lineman Myjai Sanders at No. 51 — the same number as Alabama and Michigan. Bryant also projects as a third-round pick, while quarterback Desmond Ridder, running back Jerome Ford and several others could play their way into Day 2 picks with strong performances. Cincinnati will not be intimidated by pure talent.
How to watch Cotton Bowl live
Game: Cotton Bowl
Date: Friday, Dec. 31 | Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Location: AT&T Stadium — Arlington, Texas
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Cotton Bowl prediction, picks
Featured Game | Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Cincinnati Bearcats
It’s easy to tell why the line is two touchdowns — it’s Bama vs. Cincinnati, for goodness sake. However, this matchup is much closer than the brand names would say. The Tide have real advantages on the outside and an NFL-caliber quarterback on offense to deal with the havoc. Regardless, expect the game to finish close given the Bearcats have plenty of NFL players on their side of the ball, including Ridder and both starting cornerbacks. Prediction: Cincinnati (+13.5)
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