The University of Cincinnati Bearcats will face the #1 Alabama Crimson Tide on December 31st in the CFP cotton Bowl down in Jerry’s World. Luke Fickell gets to play arguably the best college football coach in history – Nick Saban. Bama’s QB also just won the Heisman Trophy. What better way to crash the College Football Playoff then to play this modern dynasty commanded by Coach Saban? Just writing these words gives me chills. What. An. Opportunity.
Alabama is led by first-year starting QB, Bryce Young. Just a sophomore, the 6-foot, 200-pound quarterback has thrown for 43 TDs to just 4 picks. He is also fast and elusive on the ground. Despite only starting this season, #9 is very, very poised. After a rocky start to the year, Young has found his sea legs. If he came out this year, there is even talk of whether he would be the #1 overall pick in the NFL draft. Bryce can make all the throws. For UC to win, the Bearcats must stop Bryce from scrambling and keep him guessing by mixing up the defense. UC’s two All-American corners also must play very, very well, as they have all year. If this happens, the other #9 Desmond Ridder has a chance to outplay the Heisman Trophy winner.
Bama is led by senior tailback, #4 Brian Robinson, Jr. Robinson has 1,071 yards and 14 TDs on the ground. At 6’ 1” and 225 lbs., he is a load to tackle. And like all of his predecessors, this Bama back will play in the NFL. Alabama has always been a run first team. However, Robinson is certainly not the most talented running back Saban has ever had. It will be interesting to see if the Bearcats can win the line of scrimmage like they did against Georgia in the Peach Bowl last year so Young is forced to throw to move the chains.
At receiver, John Metchie is out with a torn ACL. This still leaves Jameson Williams, who has compiled nearly 1,500 yards and 15 TDs. Watching #1 Williams face off against #1 Sauce Gardner will be the game within the game. This is the most pivotal player-on-player battle of the entire game. Can Sauce continue his streak and prevent Williams from entering the endzone?
After Williams, no tight end or receiver has over 333 yards on the year or a handful of touchdowns. If Williams is taken out of the game, UC’s defense is set up for success. Bama does not have an elite tight end. Obviously, every player on the Tide is a five-star recruit. However, on paper, the receiving corps is not very balanced at all. The Metchie injury evens the playing field quite a bit.
Alabama has the 8th ranked total defense. While Cincinnati has the 3rd ranked red zone defense, Bama is not even in the top 50. Cincinnati boasts the 4th ranked scoring defense while Alabama is 20th. Cincinnati has the 2nd ranked passing defense. Bama’s is not in the top 50.However, the Tide have a very strong rushing defense, ranked 4th. UC is at 47th.
Bearcats fans remember this all too well. However, for anyone that forgot, UC controlled the Peach Bowl until the final seconds when Georgia nailed a 53-yard field goal. Even so, UC battled Georgia down to the wire without some of its best players, including Sauce Gardner, James Wiggins, and Malik Vann. The Bearcats have proven they can compete. They now have the confidence to play with anyone in the country. This confidence boost began with the Georgia game and carried over into winning at Notre Dame and Indiana and handling the pressure of expectations all season long.
I also have to believe Alabama transfer and UC star running back, Jerome Ford, is extra motivated to take on his former team and prove a point.
The Bearcats must figure out their kicking game between now and New Year’s Eve. Although the Tide do not have a stellar redzone defense, UC will inevitably be forced into kicking a field goal or two.
Alabama is 5-1 in semi-final playoff games, having only lost one game to Ohio State. For anyone expecting or assuming UC will get blown out – take a deeper look at the numbers. Also, watch Alabama’s film. Other than the Ole Miss and Georgia games, the Tide have played very shaky and were beatable at any given point. I fully expect this coaching staff and Luke Fickell to have the Cats ready to go.
By Andy Smith