No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Cincinnati will get the 2021 College Football Playoff action underway when they meet on New Year’s Eve. The Crimson Tide are coming off an emphatic victory over previously unbeaten Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, while the Bearcats polished off an unblemished regular season with a win over Houston in the AAC Championship Game.
This marks the first time in the playoff’s short history that a team from a Group of Five conference has qualified for the four-team field. Cincinnati gets the challenge of attempting to unseat the defending national champions in what could be a statement game not only for the Bearcats, but for every Group of Five team.
Here’s how to watch Friday’s matchup in Arlington, Texas.
Alabama vs. Cincinnati: Need to know
Tempo, tempo, tempo: Desmond Ridder, the star dual-threat quarterback for the Bearcats, has to be a star against a Crimson Tide defense that, historically, hasn’t had a ton of success against mobile quarterbacks. The combination of Ridder’s downfield ability and a multi-dimensional rushing attack with Ridder and Alabama transfer Jerome Ford makes this offense tough to stop when coach Luke Fickell decides to crank up the tempo. Alabama has the defensive depth across the board, but especially in its front seven. Cincinnati has to find a way to wear this group out and running as many plays as possible is the path to success.
Strength vs. strength: Alabama will be without wide receiver John Metchie III, but Biletnikoff Award finalist Jameson Williams, Iron Bowl hero Ja’Corey Brooks and multiple weapons at tight end will test one of the best secondaries in the country. Make no mistake, that’s not hyperbole. Bearcats cornerbacks Coby Bryant and Ahmad Gardner are two of the best in the country, and it’ll be awesome to see how Bryant, Gardner and the crew attack a Crimson Tide receiving corps after they’ve had plenty of time to prepare.
Aberration of trend? Alabama’s offensive line picked the right time to play its best game of the year when it stymied a Georgia defense that was widely regarded as one of the best in a generation. That was the only time that we’ve seen the Crimson Tide look competent against a good opponent all year, so it’ll be interesting to see if that performance was the start of a trend or just an aberration based on some poor game-planning from the Bulldogs coaching staff.
How to watch Cotton Bowl live
Game: Cotton Bowl
Date: Friday, Dec. 31 | Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Location: AT&T Stadium — Arlington, Texas
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Cotton Bowl prediction, picks
Featured Game | Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Cincinnati Bearcats
I’ll take the Crimson Tide to win, cover and dominate an overmatched Bearcats squad…