2021 Cotton Bowl: Cincinnati Aims To Take Down Alabama

2021 Cotton Bowl
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The 2021 Cotton Bowl finally gives the Group of Five the opportunity they have been seeking ever since the playoff came into fruition in 2014. The Cincinnati Bearcats don’t just have an opportunity against the “Big Boys”; they are getting their chance against the greatest modern dynasty in college football. Alabama has accustomed to college football’s brightest stage, but in a year where the Crimson Tide has looked “vulnerable”, will Cinderella make her first appearance in January?

Is It Actually David Vs Goliath?

Here are the last five recruiting class national rankings for Alabama And Cincinnati:

  • 2021
    • Alabama 1, Cincinnati 45
  • 2020
    • Alabama 2, Cincinnati 41
  • 2019
    • Alabama 1, Cincinnati 66
  • 2018
    • Alabama 5, Cincinnati 49
  • 2017
    • Alabama 1, Cincinnati 63

In short, yes, Alabama has a major talent advantage over Cincinnati. But this Cincinnati team has proven they deserve this opportunity. It has been 756 days since Cincinnati lost a regular-season game. The only loss in the 2020 or 2021 season for Cincinnati was a 24-21 loss to the hands of the Georgia Bulldogs in the Sugar Bowl. The Bearcats, led by head coach Luke Fickell, have been punching up at the best of its competition and haven’t missed yet.

One Of Nations Top Defenses

Cincinnati boasts a truly elite defensive unit. They rank in the top 30 nationally in the following areas:

  • Seventh in total defense- 305.8 yards allowed per game
  • Second in passing defense- 168.3 yards allowed per game
  • Fourth in scoring defense- 16.08 points allowed per game
  • 20th in third-down conversations allowed- opponents only convert 33.5% of third downs a game
  • 28th in sacks- 2.85 per game,
  • Third in red zone defense- Only allowing points on 66.7% of the time when opponents reach the red zone
  • Third in turnovers- 29 on the season

Georgia’s defense has rightfully garnered a lot of attention all season. But this Cincinnati defense has played at an elite level all season. The 2021 Cotton Bowl presents the toughest test to date for this Bearcat defense. An Alabama offense led by another Heisman trophy winner gave plenty of SEC defenses headaches this year. However, their leading receiver John Metchi is out with an injury. Assuming Cincinnati’s lockdown corners can bottle up Jameson Williams, the rest of the wide receiver corps for the Tide are relatively unproven. That could free up extra rushers to bring to attack the quarterback all game; a recipe that proved to be very effective when Alabama survived against LSU.

Will The Real Alabama Please Stand Up?

When Alabama plays to their ceiling, they are…’Bama. That was on full display in the SEC championship game against Georgia. However, outside of the Georgia game, the Tide have not been dominant from start to finish as they have been in recent years. This season, Alabama has played five one-score games. If two-to-three plays across those five games go differently, Alabama would have finished with a 9-3 record. In particular, outside of left tackle Evan Neal, the offensive line has had major consistency issues all year.

And yet, even with the troubles that have been present on the offensive line, the Crimson tide still averaged 42.5 points per game. That offensive scoring output is good enough for fourth-best in the country. Alabama has different problems than many college football teams and this is just another example of it. The Tide are still formidable on defense, surrendering on 20.1 points per game. Head coach Nick Saban has continued to demonstrate why he is the greatest college football coach of all time. In a year when half of the teams they faced had an opportunity to knock off the Tide, only one was able to actually take advantage.

Players To Watch

Alabama

QB Bryce Young– The offense is going to start and end with the Heisman Trophy winner. He guided this high-scoring offense with 4,322 passing yards, 43 touchdowns, and only four interceptions with a completion percentage of 68. Young should expect to see plenty of pressure from a dangerous defense. For Alabama to move on, he will need to make poised decisions throughout the game.

RB Brian Robinson Jr.– To keep Cincy’s defense from blitzing unimpeded all game, they need to get something out of their rushing game. Robinson amassed 1,071 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on the season. Without their offensive focal point in Metchi, Robinson could help keep the Bearcats defense at bay simply by consistently producing four-to-five-yard runs all game.

LB Will Anderson,– In 2009, Ndamukong Suh almost single-handily won the Big 12 championship game as a defensive tackle. Anderson could be that type of dominant force in this one. He is lined up all over the field throughout the game. His 15.5 sacks on the season and 91 tackles make him the first person the Cinncinatti offense must account for.

Cinncinatti

QB Desmond RidderRidder is the unquestioned leader of this Bearcat offense. A dynamic and savvy playmaker with both his arm and legs, Ridder passed for 3,190 yards, 30 touchdowns, and ran for 361 yards and six touchdowns. He has grown and matured in this offense, which can be seen in the decline in rushing attempts from his freshman season to now. With a better understanding of the offense, he doesn’t have to make things happen on his own. However, in this game, those off-script plays could be the difference-maker if Cincinnati is going to win this game.

LB Joel DublankoOne of two first-team all-AAC players this year, Dublanko led the team with 106 tackles and 5.5. sacks. Dublanko will help be responsible for making Alabama a one-dimensional team. And while on paper, forcing the ball into the Heisman Trophy winner’s hand sounds counter-productive, the back end of this defense is built for that type of challenge.

DB Coby Bryant/DB Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner,- These two cornerbacks very well might be the best one-two combination in all of college football. Bryant was selected to multiple first-team All-American honors as well as winning the Jim Thorpe award. Gardner was unanimously selected as the AAC Defensive Player of the year and was also selected as an All-American. The two have combined for five interceptions this year. Look for these outstanding defenders to have a major impact on the outcome of the 2021 Cotton Bowl.

2021 Cotton Bowl Prediction

It is hard to imagine that Alabama just “figured it out” and the problems that had plagued them all season just disappeared against the best team they played all year. If they did, it’s one of the more remarkable in-season coaching adjustments…ever? But assuming Alabama revert closer to what it has been all season, Cincinnati can make things interesting. They are a senior-laden team that plays as one cohesive unit and will not be intimidated by the playoff stage.

However, in the 2021 Cotton Bowl, depth will show itself. Even with the wide margin in the recruiting rankings, Cincy has “ones” that are as good as many of Bama’s “ones”. But when it comes to keeping fresh bodies on offense and defense, Alabama has players third on their depth chart that would start on Cincinnati today. Combine that with the fact that Anderson will prove to be a problem they cannot ever figure out, Cincinnati will fall just short in their upset bid.

Alabama 27, Cincinnati 21