Cincinnati vs. Alabama Cotton Bowl Classic College Football Playoff Semifinal Picks

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Jerome Ford #24 of the Cincinnati Bearcats. Dylan Buell/Getty Images/AFP

College football’s main event will kick off when the first of three playoff games puts the ball in the air in Jerry’s World on New Year’s Eve.

Alabama and Cincinnati will fight for one of the two tickets to the National Championship, so let’s break down the NCAAF odds for this matchup.

Cincinnati Bearcats vs. Alabama Crimson Tide

Friday, December 31, 2021 – 03:30 PM EST at AT&T Stadium

Perennial championship contender Alabama will take the field as the No. 1 team in the nation and the defending national champion. The Tide will be playing the role of inspirational sports movie villain against this year’s Cinderella team.

Cincinnati made history after going undefeated in the regular season and winning the American Conference championship. The Bearcats earned a No. 4 seed and became the first team outside a Power Five conference to crash the College Football Playoff party.

Can the magical run continue, or will Alabama do to the underdogs what the Tide has done to so many big dogs in past postseasons?

America’s Team

It’s fitting that the Cotton Bowl was chosen to host the Bama-Cincy game. The home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys will see a pair of teams that can lay claim to the college title of America’s Team.

Like the 'Boys in the NFL, Alabama is the biggest name in football at the college level. The Tide has won 18 national titles and, since 2015, has won the College Football Playoff as many times as every other team in the country combined.

That has left the country outside of the deep south with Crimson Tide fatigue, however, eager for any other team to succeed at the highest level. And Cincinnati is about as “any other team” as it gets. Narratives aside, by the numbers, the two teams are very similar.

Cincinnati is led by a defense that gave up the seventh-fewest yards per game in the country, just a fraction of a yard ahead of eighth-ranked Alabama. On offense, the Bearcats are led by a Heisman candidate at quarterback, while Alabama has the quarterback that took home the trophy.

Desmond Ridder will get things started for Cincinnati. He’s helped lead the Bearcats to school records for scoring and touchdowns in a season.

The Bearcats also have Alabama transfer Jerome Ford at running back. Ford topped 1,000 yards this season and sparked Cincinnati’s rally against Houston in the AAC title game, scoring on 79 and 42-yard runs. He tied the school record for rushing touchdowns in a year and had five 100-yard games.

Playing the Villain Role

Alabama has a rabid fanbase that will turn out in force, which is good since the rest of the country will undoubtedly be pulling for the underdog in this story.

The Crimson Tide is usually college football’s bully, dominating the nation’s toughest conference. But Bama has been inconsistent and vulnerable —for Alabama, which just about every other team in the nation would take in a heartbeat.

The Tide lost to unranked Texas A&M and was given a scare by Florida (escaping with a 31-29 win), unranked LSU (20-14), Arkansas (42-35) and Auburn (24-22 in quadruple overtime). In the end, however, the Tide knocked off No. 1 Georgia in the SEC Championship Game and enters the postseason in the familiar top spot.

Quarterback Bryce Young took home the Heisman as the nation’s top player. While putting up impressive numbers on offense, Young has also protected the ball. Alabama has just 10 turnovers on offense, which will be tested by a Cincinnati defense that has produced three times that number.

Bama will be missing a weapon after the team’s second-leading receiver—John Metchie III—suffered what appears to be a season-ending injury.

The Pick

No one ever got rich betting against Alabama. It’s a simple fact of life, as the Tide usually wins big, especially against a team taking its first steps onto the big stage. But this isn’t the usual Alabama team, and given the close calls this year, it would be possible to cash a few checks by taking Tide opponents.

Cincinnati can move the ball and has the potential of slowing the Tide’s roll. A win may be asking too much for your NCAAF picks, but keeping things in single digits seems more than possible.

NCAAF Pick: Cincinnati +13.5 (-110) at BetOnline (visit our BetOnline Review)

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Cincinnati +13.5 (-110)
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*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.