Cincinnati vs. Alabama: Odds and Score Prediction for Cotton Bowl 2021
The 2021 Cotton Bowl features a College Football Playoff mainstay in the Alabama Crimson Tide and the new kids on the block in the Cincinnati Bearcats.
As one might suspect, the Crimson Tide will be playing the role of big favorites in this one. Nick Saban's team has won three of the seven national championships that have been determined by the new playoff model. Alabama has played in the championship game in five of those seven years.
Needless to say, the coach knows how to prepare for and win these kinds of games.
Cincinnati has already made history with its presence in the game. No Group of Five team has been selected to participate in the playoff since its inception. With its second undefeated season in as many years, Luke Fickell's group could no longer be ignored by the committee.
Now it will be given the opportunity to do what few programs have been able to do: beat Alabama in the College Football Playoff.
Here's a look at the latest odds of that happening as well as each team's keys to victory and a prediction.
Cotton Bowl 2021 Odds and Viewing Info
Date: Friday, December 31
Start Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: ESPN.com and ESPN app
Spread: Alabama -13.5
Money Line: Alabama (-550; bet $550 to win $100); Cincinnati (+400; bet $100 to win $400)
Odds via DraftKings Sportsbook
Cincinnati Keys to Victory
Find a Way to Neutralize Will Anderson
The Alabama secondary is uncharacteristically vulnerable this season. It is 65th in the country this year in passer rating allowed, and it has given up some big days through the air to some suspect competition.
Georgia is a great team, but it isn't known for its passing attack. Yet Stetson Bennett threw for a season-high 340 yards against the Tide defense. Zach Calzada of Texas A&M went 21-of-31 for 285 yards with three touchdowns and an interception in the Tide's only loss of the season.
Cincinnati will need a similar performance from Desmond Ridder to win this one. The only way that's happening is if he has some time for routes to develop downfield. Will Anderson could single-handedly make sure that doesn't happen. He has 15.5 sacks and is one of the most disruptive pass-rushers in the nation.
The Bearcats will primarily charge junior right tackle Dylan O'Quinn with stopping him. But they are going to need help from running backs and tight ends to chip in with pass protection and might want to target him with some screens to keep him honest.
Create Chaos on Defense
The dirty little secret about Alabama is that the offensive line has not been nearly as dominant as previous iterations.
Part of the blame can be cast on Heisman winner Bryce Young holding on to the ball too long, but Alabama is 104th (36) in sacks allowed and 122nd in tackles for loss allowed (84). Add in the fact that the Alabama rushing attack is only averaging four yards per carry and it's clear that Alabama doesn't have its usual maulers up front.
Cincinnati has had one of the most complete defenses in college football all season but will probably need some turnovers in this one. As we saw with Alabama and Georgia, the Tide have the ability to put up points on anyone.
It's also not out of the realm for the Bearcats to make some splash plays on defense that turn the game on its head.
Alabama Keys to Victory
Get Creative With Jameson Williams
The Cincinnati secondary shouldn't be underestimated. The cornerback tandem of Ahmad Gardner and Coby Bryant is the best in the country.
Gardner allowed a passer rating of just 20.8 when the ball was thrown his way, per PFF. Bryant won the Thorpe Award, which goes to the best defensive back in the country.
That isn't to say the Crimson Tide should be afraid of the Cincy secondary. After all, they have a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback in Bryce Young. It does mean they should be looking to get their primary playmaker Jameson Williams the ball in creative ways.
At some point, they are going to challenge Gardner and Bryant. That will likely be with Williams, but the receiver had over 1,400 yards this season. They should also be looking to get him the ball over the middle, on screens and even in the run game to make sure he stays involved.
This is not a Bama team that has relied on its ground game throughout the year. For better or worse, it is a pass-first team and can't afford to have its top receiver slowed down.
Clamp Down in the Red Zone
If Cincinnati can get the ball in the red zone things will get interesting. The Bearcats offense hasn't been the best inside the 20. They are 97th in the country in red zone scoring percentage. They've only come away with points on 78 percent of their trips.
Red zone defense hasn't been a strength for Alabama, though. The Tide have given up a score on 82.9 of their stands inside the 20 which is good for 65th in the country.
Getting pressure on Ridder will be crucial. He's thrown 16 touchdowns to one interception in the red zone but has also taken five sacks, which is more than any other area of the field. Forcing him to hold on to the ball and deal with Will Anderson is the ideal scenario for the defense.
Cincinnati earned this shot. There's no denying after the success it has had over the past two seasons it should be vying for a championship.
That doesn't guarantee this game will be close, though. There have been a lot of semifinal games that didn't result in close games. This has the makings of another one of those.
The Cincinnati secondary makes things interesting. It picked off Notre Dame twice in the 24-13 win over the Irish. However, there's a disparity in talent between what Notre Dame has in Jack Coan and Drew Pyne and what Alabama has in Bryce Young.
Jameson Williams will be the best receiver that either of the Cincinnati corners has seen, and the Tide just looked too good against Georgia to pick against them.
Prediction: Alabama 41, Cincinnati 21
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