Cotton Bowl Classic: Cincinnati vs Alabama
It finally happened. The Cincinnati Bearcats from the American Athletic Conference (AAC) make history on New Years’ Eve by becoming the first team to ever represent a Group of 5 conference in the College Football Playoff. In a year that’s seen traditional powers like Oklahoma, Ohio State, LSU, and Notre Dame falter at times, the undefeated Bearcats clawed their way into the playoff, pun intended, with one of the most impressive resumes in college football history. The task that awaits them at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX is a daunting one, as they prepare to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide led by the best coach in college football history and the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner. Though many feel Cincinnati has earned their playoff spot, many also feel they don’t have the athletes to play with the likes of Alabama, Georgia, and Michigan — and perhaps rightfully so.
Similarly, many prominent sports opinionists have deemed this to be a “down” year for Alabama football. Outside of one apparition of greatness against Georgia in the SEC Championship game, this team has been inconsistent and sloppy — by their sky high standards — with their defense failing to show up in some games and their offense in others. Despite this, they find themselves in as good a position as ever with the number one seed in the playoff and another clear shot at a National Title. There’s a lot at stake on both sides in this one with numerous questions that still need to be answered. Thankfully, plenty of answers await us this Friday at 3:30 PM ET.
Cincinnati vs Alabama Betting Odds
Wisconsin vs Arizona State Betting Trends
Bearcats are 5-0 ATS in their last 5 games as an underdog
Bearcats are 5-1 ATS in their last 6 non-conference games
Bearcats are 6-0 ATS vs. a team with a winning record
Crimson Tide are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 non-conference games
Crimson Tide are 5-2 ATS in their last 7 neutral site games.
Crimson Tide are 2-5 ATS in their last 7 games following a ATS win
Cincinnati Bearcats Betting Odds
All season, the low hanging fruit for this Cincinnati team has been their strength of schedule (SOS). The Bearcats enter this matchup with the worst SOS of any CFP team, ranking 90th in the country. The CFP team with the second worst SOS is Michigan with a 21st ranked schedule. Alabama, alternatively, has the strongest schedule amongst CFP teams with the 4th best in the NCAA. Despite a mediocre schedule, this Cincinnati team has played two teams ranked in the top 25 this season in Notre Dame and Houston and has beat both teams soundly.
The meat of this Bearcat team is the defensive backfield. Led by two NFL level cornerbacks in Coby Bryant and Ahmad Gardener, the Bearcats have the best passing defense in the AAC and the second best in the country, behind only Washington. They give up just 166 passing yards a game and have the third most interceptions of any FBS team. Their scoring defense is tied with Michigan for the fourth best in college football, allowing just 16.9 points a game. They also have the fourth best red zone defense in the country, allowing scores on just 69.44 percent of opponent red zone drives.
Offensively, the Bearcats have a veteran squad led by senior QB Desmond Ritter. They rank sixth in the AAC in passing offense, averaging 248.7 yards a game, and fourth in rushing offense, where they average 180.2 yards a game. Despite not ranking in the top 3 in either passing or rushing offense, they lead the conference in scoring, putting up 39.2 points a game. They owe a lot of this to their ball hawking defense that has afforded them field position advantages all season — something they are going to have to continue to capitalize on if they want to beat Alabama.
Alabama Crimson Tide Betting Odds
Up until Alabama’s 17 point thumping of Georgia in the SEC championship game, this was considered all but a lost season for the Crimson Tide — at least by the media. Though this offense has looked stagnant against mediocre defenses like LSU and Auburn, they rank second in the SEC in yards per game. Led by Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young at QB, their passing offense ranks second in the SEC, behind only Mississippi State, and seventh in the country. Receivers Jamieson Williams and John Metchie lead the team in receiving with Williams ranking fifth in college football in yards per catch with 21.3 yards a grab.
The Crimson Tide have struggled to run the ball at times this season, ranking 10th in the SEC in rushing yards. Outside of Brian Robinson Jr., no Alabama player has rushed for over 285 yards this season. For reference, Cincinnati has three players over this threshold. This Alabama offense has been effective in the red zone, though, scoring on 92.45 percent of red zone drives.
Defensively, Alabama ranks second to Georgia in the SEC, allowing only 306 yards a game. They’ve had their most success against the run this year, giving up only 82.8 yards a game. Only Wisconsin allows fewer yards per rush than Alabama. Against the pass, however, this Alabama team has struggled at times. They rank eighth in the SEC in passing defense, allowing 223.3 yards a game. They rank 92nd in the FBS in opposing quarterback completion percentage, and 55th in opponent passing first downs a game. Their red zone defense has also struggled, giving up scores on 82.86 percent of opponent red zone drives — 63rd amongst FBS teams.
Cincinnati vs Alabama Picks & Prediction
The matchups in this game play in Cincinnati’s favor. Alabama needs to throw the ball to move the chains on offense, and few teams have a better secondary than the Bearcats. While Alabama proved against Georgia that they’re still capable of having success against dominant secondaries, no Georgia cornerback is projected to go higher than Cincinnati’s Ahmad Gardener. This Alabama team is stingy against the run, which will come in handy against a Cincinnati team that can be dynamic in the offensive backfield. Overall, Cincinnati’s defense matches up better with Alabama’s offense than Alabama’s defense matches up with Cincinnati’s offense. I do think Alabama’s offense is generally better than Cincinnati’s, and that the Alabama O-Line will have more success against the Cincy D-Line than they’ve had against some of the SEC D-Lines they’ve struggled against. When it’s all said and done, I love this to be a low scoring game with an Alabama win and a Cincy cover.
My Pick: Alabama wins 27-21, Cincy covers (+13.5) and the under hits (u57.5)