Alabama's Nick Saban: 'No Doubt in My Mind' Cincinnati Belonged in CFP Playoff

Rob Goldberg@@TheRobGoldbergFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 1, 2022

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - DECEMBER 31: Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide looks on during pregame warm-ups prior to a game against the Cincinnati Bearcats in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic for the College Football Playoff semifinal game at AT&T Stadium on December 31, 2021 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Cincinnati proved its worth even in a 27-6 loss to Alabama in Friday's Cotton Bowl.

"There’s no doubt in my mind they belonged in the playoff," Alabama coach Nick Saban told reporters after the game. "They gave us all we could handle."

Even with a 13-0 record entering the day, many questioned Cincinnati's spot in the College Football Playoff based on the strength of schedule. The American Athletic Conference champion was the first Group of Five team to earn a spot in the national semifinals.

The Bearcats lost by three touchdowns, but they earned the respect of the opposing coach.

Alabama has dominated opponents regardless of conference over the past decade, reaching the national title game in six of the last seven years. The team often cruises to victory in the semifinal: 

Tom Fornelli @TomFornelli

Alabama in CFP Semis<br>2014: L by 7<br>2015: W by 38<br>2016: W by 17<br>2017: W by 18<br>2018: W by 11<br>2020: W by 17<br>2021: W by 21

Even last year's national championship game was decided by 28 points as the Crimson Tide beat Ohio State.

Cincinnati struggled offensively, but the defense held Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young to his lowest passing output of the season (181 yards). The 27 points were also well below Alabama's 42.5 scoring average this year.

Even in defeat, the Bearcats showed they were one of the top teams in college football this season.