Friday’s matchup between No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Cincinnati is a true David and Goliath story for the college football world.
The Cincinnati Bearcats are the first Group of Five team to reach the College Football Playoff, while the Alabama Crimson Tide is making its seventh trip to the College Football Playoff in eight years of the event.
Tide head coach Nick Saban and his process have made Alabama the ultimate contender in the College Football Playoffs.
History is on their side, too, as the program has only lost one of the seven semifinal games they have played in since 2014. Their only semifinals loss came in 2014 in the very first year of the playoffs against eventual champions Ohio State.
However, Cincinnati still isn’t a cakewalk by any means.
Here are the things for the giant that is Bama to beware of going into the game.
Cincinnati has an old team that has been together for a while
Cincinnati has been together for a long time. Alabama is by far more talented and on paper should easily get the win over any Group of Five school.
However, one thing that a lot of folks aren’t thinking about is that the majority of the Bearcats’ contributing players are four and five-year players. With the transfer portal so prevalent and important these days, it is rare to see this many contributors staying together for such a long time.
If there was a single drawback to Alabama’s massive success, it would be losing players to the NFL consistently. This is why Alabama has to rely on transfers or younger guys so often.
Cincinnati, on the other hand, has experienced players that are also experienced playing together with each other as one unit. Sometimes that can be more important than the talent differential.
Alabama players will be tempted to look forward to the championship game
Alabama and many of the players have been here before. So overall, they will be more focused and prepared for this moment. Yet, Cincinnati will be looking to prove that they belong in this game.
They will come out firing on all cylinders and will be throwing the kitchen sink at the Tide. Bama will get every type of trick, stunt, eye-candy and flash thrown at them to try to confuse them and get a leg-up on the defending national champions.
Alabama on the other hand boasts that they don’t need gimmicks when they are the most talented and most fundamentally-sound team. However, the one issue the Tide can run into is not being able to keep their minds in the now.
It is possible for a team like Alabama to look ahead even in a game this crucial just because a team like Cincinnati is from a completely separate league. The Tide still know this is a must-win game, and Saban will make sure that his players have their minds on this game and are ready to go.
A Saban team is always focused and ready to go for any big game, but it is still worth mentioning that Alabama players know this isn’t Clemson or Ohio State.
Tide quarterback Bryce Young has had an incredible season so far, most recently winning the Heisman Trophy in December. The sophomore signal-caller threw for an incredible 4,322 yards and 43 touchdowns with only four interceptions all year.
However, there were times where Young looked more like a backup than a Heisman Trophy winner. The first time was against Texas A&M at College Station. Aggies head coach Jimbo Fisher brought the heat constantly against Young and managed to make him uncomfortable all night long in Alabama’s only loss of the season.
Young also had a tough time against LSU at home as well as Auburn on the road. In the Iron Bowl, Young was sacked seven times by a relatively average Tiger defense. He also did not lead a touchdown drive until the final minute of the game.
Cincinnati knows the formula, and although Georgia was unsuccessful in bringing extensive pressure to Young, head coach Luke Fickell will be making sure that his team is getting after him.
If Young has a game similar to his performance against Georgia in the SEC Championship, it won’t matter what the other team does because the Tide will roll.
Almost every version of Young is better than most quarterbacks in the country, but if Bama gets the SEC Championship edition of Young, Cincinnati will be without a prayer in this one.
Cincinnati and Alabama face off in Dallas, Texas, today in the Cotton Bowl at 2:30 p.m. CT to see who will get to go to the national championship.
Hayden Crigler is a contributing college football and college basketball writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him through email: Hayden@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter: @hayden_crigler.