Cotton Bowl 2021: Full Preview and Predictions for Alabama vs. Cincinnati

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistDecember 6, 2021

Alabama wide receiver Jameson Williams (1) runs toward the end zone for a touchdown against Georgia during the second half of the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson
Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

The program with the most College Football Playoff appearances faces off with the first-ever Group of Five representative at the Cotton Bowl for a shot at the national title. 

The Alabama Crimson Tide clinched their seventh playoff berth with their SEC Championship Game win over the Georgia Bulldogs. 

Nick Saban's top-ranked team took the outright lead in playoff appearances over the Clemson Tigers by landing the No. 1 seed on Sunday. 

The Cincinnati Bearcats will be favored side of neutral fans because they represent the underdogs in FBS football. Cincinnati is the first Group of Five participant since the playoff era began in 2014. 

Cincinnati will be emotional favorite and odds-on underdog on New Year's Eve inside AT&T Stadium. Alabama opened as a two-touchdown favorite. 


Cotton Bowl Information

Date: Friday, December 31

Start Time: 3:30 p.m. ET 


Live Stream: ESPN.com and ESPN app


Cotton Bowl Odds

Spread: Alabama -13.5

Over/Under: 58.5

Money Line: Alabama (-575; bet $575 to win $100); Cincinnati (+410; bet $100 to win $410)



Alabama found an extra gear in the SEC Championship Game. 

The Crimson Tide struggled to put together a complete performance throughout the regular season, but once a championship was on the line, they turned into the Alabama of old. 

Alabama's offense boasts the likely Heisman Trophy winner in Bryce Young, who tore up Georgia's secondary for 421 yards and three scores. 

Young is second in the FBS with 43 touchdown passes and fourth in passing yards with 4,322. He could be a menace to the Bearcats.

Cincinnati's biggest strength on defense is its cornerbacks. Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner, Coby Bryant and Arquon Bush all pulled in three interceptions in the regular season.

Gardner is one of the best defensive players in the FBS, and he has the potential to shut down Jameson Williams. 

Williams will be Alabama's No. 1 wide receiver in the Cotton Bowl and beyond because John Metchie tore his ACL against Georgia. 

Gardner will be tasked with neutralizing Williams' impact. He needs to force Young to beat the Bearcats by throwing to Slade Bolden, Jahleel Billingsley and other targets. 

Alabama's offense turned in sluggish performances in November against the LSU Tigers and Auburn Tigers. LSU held the Tide to 20 points, and Auburn limited them to one touchdown in regulation. 

LSU contained Alabama to six rushing yards, while Auburn held the SEC champion to 71 yards on the ground.

Cincinnati can follow a similar game plan to stay within two touchdowns. The Bearcats have a better offense than Auburn and LSU, so their threat to Alabama could be more sustainable. 

Auburn used its backup quarterback, T.J. Finley, and LSU's Max Johnson completed just 50 percent of his passes on November 6. 

Desmond Ridder ranks inside the top 20 in passing yards and touchdowns. He also poses a threat with his legs. He ran for 361 yards and six scores on the season. 

If Cincinnati limits the Alabama passing game, Ridder and Co. can put up points to either remain close, or take the lead. 

Alabama owns an edge in playoff experience, but the Metchie injury and the bad matchup against Gardner will hurt the Crimson Tide's effectiveness, especially in the first half as they adjust to life without one of their top wide receivers. 

Prediction: Alabama 31, Cincinnati 26


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