This season, the Cotton Bowl is set to be a College Football Playoff semifinal matchup for the third time in its history. Two of the top four teams in the country will be heading to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, with a CFP National Championship berth on the line.
The previous times that the Cotton Bowl has served as a CFP semifinal, neither game ended up being competitive. In 2015, Alabama beat Michigan State 38-0. Three years later, Clemson rolled to a 30-3 victory over Notre Dame.
Whether this year's matchup is closer likely depends on which teams head to the Cotton Bowl. The CFP bracket will be announced Sunday, but it seems clear what the selection committee will decide. The top four teams (in order) will likely be: Alabama, Michigan, Georgia and Cincinnati.
A Michigan-Georgia game seems more likely to be a competitive matchup than an Alabama-Cincinnati contest. But who knows what will happen if that is the four-team playoff field.
Although the bracket isn't set, here's everything to know at this point about this year's Cotton Bowl.
2021 Cotton Bowl Information
Date: Friday, Dec. 31
Start Time: 3:30 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. ET
Alabama is likely going to be the No. 1 seed for the College Football Playoff. On Saturday, the Crimson Tide knocked off the previously unbeaten Georgia Bulldogs, putting up 41 points against the most dominant defense in the country. That should be enough to help them jump ahead of Michigan.
If that's the case, then Alabama will get to choose whether it plays in either the Cotton Bowl or the Orange Bowl. Neither site is particularly close to Tuscaloosa, but Arlington is a bit closer than Miami, so perhaps the Crimson Tide could be heading to the Cotton Bowl for the first time since 2015.
When these bowls served as the semifinal matchups in 2018, Alabama was the No. 1 seed and played against Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. With Alabama likely to play Cincinnati this year, the matchup would be fair at either CFP semifinal site.
Many analysts are projecting the Crimson Tide and Bearcats to face off in the Cotton Bowl, including Jerry Palm of CBS Sports, Kyle Bonagura and Mark Schlabach of ESPN and Stewart Mandel of The Athletic.
Cincinnati will be looking to prove that it is deserving of its CFP berth and that it can compete with a top Power Five team. The Bearcats will be the first Group of Five team to reach the playoff since the system was implemented in 2014, and they are going to face a challenge no matter which team they play against.
But Alabama may be the most difficult opponent in the CFP bracket. The Crimson Tide are no strangers to success at this time of year under head coach Nick Saban, and they are looking to become the first team to win back-to-back national championships since they did so in the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
If Alabama can achieve that feat, it will likely be because of Bryce Young. The sophomore quarterback has emerged as the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy, and he aired it out in the SEC Championship Game, passing for 421 yards and accounting for four total touchdowns.
"He's very calm, has a great disposition about what he's doing, doesn't get frustrated too easily, but also doesn't get too excited very easily," Saban said, per ESPN's Chris Low. "That's a rare combination, especially for a guy who's in his first year as a starter and playing against a defense as good as Georgia's."
Young could put up more big numbers against Cincinnati's defense in that potential matchup, and the Bearcats may have trouble trying to slow down the Crimson Tide's high-powered attack.
If Alabama vs. Cincinnati ends up being the Cotton Bowl matchup, it could be another lopsided contest. It's hard to see the Tide having too much trouble cruising to victory and returning to the CFP National Championship.