Happy Friday, everyone. Game Day is finally upon us! Your Cotton Bowl previews:
By the numbers, Cincinnati’s pass rush is even better than Georgia’s. The Bearcats blitz on only 25% of dropbacks (69th in FBS), but they generate pressure 39% of the time (third) and sack the quarterback 9% of the time (16th).
End Myjai Sanders is the key. He has only 2.5 sacks on the season but has created eight sacks for teammates by creating havoc in the pocket and sending quarterbacks scurrying with his 46 pressures, by far the most on the team. Tackle Curtis Brooks (7.5 sacks), middle linebacker Joel Dublanko (5.5) and end Malik Vann (3.5) have all benefited from Sanders’ work.
Young has shown the tendency to scramble himself into sacks at times. Alabama ranks only 67th in sack rate allowed, 75th on passing downs. If you can’t corral him, he is probably going to make a big play; he has thrown 16 touchdown passes under pressure this season, and only one other quarterback (Houston’s Clayton Tune) has thrown more than 11. But if Cincinnati can do what Georgia didn’t and actually bring Young to the ground a few times, that’s a game-changer. SP+: Alabama 30.5, Cincinnati 25.8
Cincinnati had the secondary to run with Alabama’s receivers and slow down the Tide’s passing game. But the issue for the Bearcats could be how they matchup with the big bodies on Alabama’s offensive and defensive lines. On offense, the Tide are in good shape if they can keep Bryce Young clean. Alabama 34, Cincinnati 21.
Cincinnati making the College Football Playoff was a great story and a just reward for the Bearcats after their impressive season. But facing Alabama is a completely different assignment than beating Notre Dame or running through the American Athletic. Bryce Young and Jameson Williams will connect often and the Crimson Tide shut down Desmond Ridder to win going away. Alabama 34, Cincinnati 13.
Can David slay Goliath? Or is Alabama simply primed for another blowout victory en route to another national title? The moment shouldn’t be too big for Cincinnati. Fickell will have the Bearcats ready to play, and the defense can win a few battles in the first half as Young finds his footing with a revamped receiving corps without Metchie. However, in the second half, the Crimson Tide’s edge at the line of scrimmage on defense, along with more depth on both sides of the ball starts to show up. Young connects with Williams for a big play, Robinson churns out a strong game on the ground, and Alabama’s defense puts the clamps on Cincinnati in the second half to book a trip to the national title game.
Prediction: Alabama 34, Cincinnati 20
Bill Trocchi: Alabama 28, Cincinnati 20
Which Alabama are we getting? The one that piled up three whole points in the first 59 minutes against an Auburn defense that ranks No. 33 in the nation in scoring defense? Or the one that lit up No. 1 Georgia for 41 points in the SEC championship game? John Metchie’s injury will be a factor, because Cincinnati can take away Alabama’s No. 1 receiver in Jameson Williams by adding a safety to one of their All-American corners. That leaves some inexperienced options for Young. But the Tide will still be able to generate enough offense to stay in front of the Bearcats. Alabama linebacker Will Anderson Jr. tends to disrupt any offense he sees, though the Bearcats offense is No. 6 nationally in yards per play. Cincinnati keeps it close, but Alabama’s advantage at quarterback proves to be the difference.
On the back end, Cincinnati has top-tier defensive backs in Ahmad Gardner and Coby Bryant to slow Alabama’s receivers, but nobody can cover Jameson Williams for 60 minutes. On the other side of the ball, the Bearcats will need Desmond Ridder to have one of the best games of his life to keep pace with the Alabama offense, and I don’t see it happening. My heart is hoping for a close, exciting game, but my head tells me there won’t be much drama left in this one in the fourth quarter. Pick: Alabama -13.5
There will be moments when Cincinnati looks like it might be able to pull off something special, but there will also be a few lulls when it make a massive mistake. It was able to overcome those against the East Carolinas of the world – and there will be an interesting special teams play with a big blocked kick – but it won’t be enough.
Will Anderson and the Alabama defensive line will take care of things early in the fourth.
Alabama 37, Cincinnati 20
Hummer: Cincinnati +13.5; Frankly, I think Alabama is just a little too deep and a little too good up front for Cincinnati to deal with. Desmond Ridder is going to get the ball out fast — Bryce Young showed that as the blueprint to beat UGA — and I expect the Bearcats to hold up defensively; Cincinnati has the best cornerback pairing in the nation. But in the end, Alabama has a little too much skill. I also really worry about the Bearcats’ offensive line. Cincinnati manages to cover, but Alabama wins this one handily. … Alabama 34, Cincinnati 21.
Crawford: Alabama -13.5; I’ve considered taking the Bearcats and the points here given the Crimson Tide’s inconsistent play at times this season and Cincinnati playing with a point to prove for the entire Group of Five. Knowing Alabama’s “underdog” mindset however, that’s worrisome for Fickell’s team. Since Alabama is my national champion pick, I don’t envision the Crimson Tide looking ahead. Tide roll. ... Alabama 41, Cincinnati 20.
A win for Cincinnati would send the team to the national championship game and the program into the rarefied air Luke Fickell is hoping the Bearcats can fly in permanently. It’s the air that belongs exclusively to the top-10 programs, not just the top-10 teams.
The problem for Cincinnati is Alabama is college football’s No. 1 program. It doesn’t lose these games. Nick Saban doesn’t lose these games. The Bearcats will fight hard and hold their own against the defending national champions. But it won’t be enough. UC loses, 27-21.
That last one is from the Cincinnati Enquirer. Everyone has Alabama winning the game which should make us at least a little nervous. As Bill Connelly mentions at the first link, Cincinnati’s pass rush will be a key and it hasn’t been discussed all that much. Was Alabama’s stellar line play against Georgia a one-off great game, or is that the line we will see in the playoffs? Is Cincinnati’s pass rush simply the product of playing against lesser competition all year, or are they good enough to get after Young like LSU and Auburn?
We won’t really know the answers to any of this until we see it on the field. These two teams have played such vastly different schedules that few conclusions can be drawn. What we do know is that there is greater depth on the Alabama side, and more top end NFL talent. Betting against Nick Saban in the playoffs is rarely a good idea, and this probably isn’t a good time to start. Cincinnati will make a little noise, but the Tide will pull away in the second half. Let’s call it Alabama 38, Cincinnati 17.
Of course, that is merely my opinion. Vote and give us yours in the comments.
What will be the result of the Cotton Bowl?
This poll is closed
Bearcats’ hopes go out like WKRP, Tide by 14+
Cincinnati makes a game of it, Tide by 1-13
Bearcats pull the upset (FLAGGED!)
Nick Saban is just as curious as the rest of us when it comes to which Alabama version shows up today.
“You never really know,” he said Thursday morning. “I can sit here and tell you that I can tell or can’t tell. There’s been games when I was concerned that we had the right mindset and went out and played well. And there’s been games where I thought we were really ready to play and we didn’t play very well.
“You really never know until you get out there on the field and kind of start the game and see the look in their eye and how focused and how important it is for everybody to maintain intensity.”
Hope for the best.
Saban also mentioned that Jalyn Armour-Davis and JoJo Earle will be game time decisions, but his phrasing is key.
“[Armour Davis is] a mature player, and he knows whether he can go out there and do his job,” Saban said. “And JoJo has practiced as well, so we’ll make game-time decisions on how much those guys are able to participate.”
Earlier this week, Alabama defensive coordinator Pete Golding provided an update on Armour-Davis, stating that the redshirt junior cornerback looked good during practice while stating, “It’s good to have him back.”
It sounds like both will play, and the decision is simply how much. Based on Golding’s comments, it certainly seems as if JAD will be ready to roll. Earle didn’t have a huge role to begin with, but is capable of producing some explosive plays.
Last, while JaMo has no interest whatsoever in talking about the transfer portal this week, this is a great piece from ESPN’s Paolo Uggeti on how the portal impacted the college football playoff this season.
Throughout the recruiting process, Williams’ dad, James, knew he wanted his son to end up at Alabama. Williams, however, gravitated toward Buckeyes’ wide receiver coach Brian Hartline, who, like Williams, had also run track, specifically hurdles, in high school. The relationship was enough to get Williams to Columbus. But once he arrived, snaps and targets were few. Frustration built up. His high school coach Brandon Gregory encouraged him to push through. The portal was a last resort.
“He was really unhappy, but he wanted to fight through it and show them that he could play,” Gregory said. “I kind of heard it in his voice, like, ‘I’m doing everything I can, but it’s not working out.’”
I never like speaking in absolutes since it’s always possible that one of the young guys would have developed had Williams not been brought into the fold, but it’s tough to imagine that Alabama would be here without him. Very interesting to read that, like Henry To’o To’o, Jameson’s dad wanted him at Alabama all along.
Come to Bama, young superstars. It will pay off.
That’s about it for today. Have a great weekend.