Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic Preview: #4 Cincinnati Bearcats vs #1 Alabama Crimson Tide

When it comes to coaching in tight bowl games, Nick Saban knows a thing or two to use to his advantage.
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By Kelly Reed

Game Info
#4 Cincinnati Bearcats vs #1 Alabama Crimson Tide
Friday – December 31 – 2:30 p.m.
AT&T Stadium – Arlington, TX

Records Before the Game
#4 Cincinnati Bearcats (13-0)
#1 Alabama Crimson Tide (12-1)

Defending national champion #1 Alabama is facing this season’s “Cinderella” #4 Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl at JerryWorld for the first College Football Playoff semifinal matchup on New Year’s Eve. Alabama is a staple of the CFP, having seven appearances under its belt. As you might guess, the Crimson Tide are favored not only in this game but also to win the whole thing and repeat as national champions. The Bearcats are the only unbeaten team in the country and the first Group of 5 school to reach the CFP. They are also the under dog in this match up. This will be the sixth time the two programs have met on the gridiron. Alabama has won all five of the previous meetings. Let’s breakdown this match up!

#4 Cincinnati Bearcats
For those of us who forgot all about last season, Cincinnati was also unbeaten heading into bowl season but were snubbed by the CFP committee. This year after defeating Notre Dame they’ve been invited to the dance. QB Desmond Ridder has all the experience needed to calm nerves and pregame jitters of his teammates. He’ll also be tasked with leading the team by being smart with the ball. The Bearcats have the playbook and players to execute their game plan. Ridder has 30 TDs through the air and close to 3,200 yards. He isn’t afraid to tuck the ball and run as evidenced by his six touchdowns on the ground. WR Alec Pierce is the main target of Ridder, hauling in 50 passes this season and almost a third of Ridder’s passing touchdowns. Expect Nick Saban to come up with a scheme that will render Pierce’s contributions to a minimum. That’s where RB Jerome Ford has to be a playmaker and move the chains. On defense the Bearcats have a strong secondary. CB Cobe Bryant is changing his jersey number to #8 in honor of Laker legend Kobe Bryant. Bryant along with his counterpart CB Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner could help slow down the aerial attack of the Crimson Tide and keep the Bearcat offense within striking distance. The Bearcats played the Georgia Bulldogs last football season in the 2021 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and almost pulled off the upset in a 24-21 loss. The team won’t be intimidated with the SEC reputation and might get away with a few surprises of their own.

#1 Alabama Crimson Tide
They’re back… back again! The Crimson Tide have won the College Football Playoff three previous times but have yet to pull off back-to-back titles. The road to return wasn’t easy for Alabama. They got by LSU and Florida by the skin of their teeth and needed a miracle drive to tie the game against Auburn before winning in overtime. The Tide showed they can be beaten when they lost to Texas A&M at College Station. The team had to replace a trio of NFL calibre athletes (Mac Jones – QB, Najee Harris – RB, DeVonta Smith – WR) heading into this season. This is Alabama… no need to rebuild, just reload. Now the offense is led by QB Bryce Young, this season’s Heisman Trophy winner. He can literally do it all. Over 4,300 yards passing, 43 TDs and only 4 interceptions. Amazing stats. Young can also maneuver in the pocket to keep plays alive and will run when needed. He’s cerebral and has great vision on the field. The break between the SEC title game and this game will probably do wonders for RB Brian Robinson Jr. He hasn’t received the fanfare that other Tide running backs have had in the past, but don’t let that fool you. Robinson is an excellent back behind a strong o-line. He’s put up over 1,000 yards on the ground and 14 TDs. ‘Nuff said. When the Tide lost John Metchie III in the SEC title game it hurt but this will allow WR Jameson Williams to shine. Expect Young to find him on a few potential big play opportunities. Williams has to cash them in. The Crimson Tide defense found a different gear against the Bulldogs in the SEC Championship game. They took it personal. I don’t expect the same intensity against the Bearcats, but then again they might not need it. Saban will make sure that the defense is up to the challenge.

The betting world and ESPN are giving the Crimson Tide about a 70% chance of taking home the win. They’re giving up 13.5 points to the Bearcats. Over/under is at 57.5 points. The over is the way to go for the betting public. Cincinnati will put up points… Alabama will put up more points (probably 10 more). The Bearcats will keep the game close until the 4th Quarter when they’ll make a mistake thanks to the defensive line and Alabama will capitalize on it to seal the game. We’ve all seen this movie before and know how it ends. Cinderella will be home before midnight.

Final Score
Alabama Crimson Tide – 38
Cincinnati Bearcats – 24