In the ultimate David vs. Goliath matchup, the Alabama Crimson Tide will make their seventh College Football Playoff appearance in eight years. They’ll battle a newcomer, a non-Power Five newcomer at that, in the Cincinnati Bearcats.
This was a down year for Alabama by all accounts. They actually lost a game, which was eye-opening. The Crimson Tide squeaked by Florida on a failed two-point conversion, Auburn took them to overtime, and they only managed to score 20 on LSU. Yet here we are, with Alabama ranked No.1 as SEC Champions after rolling over Georgia in the conference title game as an underdog.
On the flip side, Cincinnati had a landmark season and, by all accounts, the best in the program’s history. The Bearcats remain undefeated despite going through a bit of a late-season swoon where they just got by some poor in-conference opponents. The American Conference champions defeated Notre Dame on the road, and they’re ready to take on the class of college football.
The first round of the College Football Playoff, the Cotton Bowl, will take place on New Year’s Eve at 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.
It’s no surprise, but Pregame.com shows that nearly all the money and bets are on the Tide. They’ve received 76% of the money and 75% of the tickets. While the line has moved slightly to -14 at some books, most still have Alabama listed at -13.5.
The total is more of the same; 78% of the bets have come in on the over. The total has not moved much, as a few books still have 58 posted.
As mentioned in the open, this was a “down” year by Alabama standards. While a No. 1 ranking and conference crown don’t exactly echo that sentiment, their performance against the spread (ATS) does. The Crimson Tide are 6-6 ATS, just 5-6 as a favorite and 1-3 on the road. They’ll be the “home” team in this one, but they’ll still be away from Tuscaloosa at AT&T Stadium. History is on Alabama’s side, however, especially under Nick Saban. His teams are 11-3 in playoff or national title games since 2009.
Cincinnati performed quite well against the spread for such a strong team in a Group of Five conference. The Bearcats started 3-0 ATS but finished just 5-5, including a 3-3 mark on the road. Luke Fickell is 2-1 in bowls as the head coach of Cincinnati, with his only loss coming in last year’s Peach Bowl to Georgia.
Plenty of things point to Cincinnati. The Bearcats beat Notre Dame in South Bend this season. They hung with Georgia in a 24-21 Peach Bowl loss last season, and Alabama hasn’t dominated its schedule this year. The Crimson Tide have played down to their competition, and yes this is a playoff game, so we shouldn’t classify the Bearcats as a step down in competition. Plus, and perhaps most importantly, two touchdowns are a lot of points to lay in a playoff game.
However, I got to stick with Saban. This is his 15th playoff or title game, and many players on this current team captured a championship last year. Sure, they’ll be without John Metchie, but Alabama has NFL-caliber players who haven’t even seen a snap yet this season. Its depth is overwhelming. Alabama turns it on in the playoffs, too. Saban’s teams have covered a 13.5-point spread in eight of 11 playoff or championship victories. Some of those came against players like Trevor Lawrence, Kyler Murray, and Deshaun Watson.
There are two other reasons I like the Crimson Tide to cover. First, their defense is like nothing Cincinnati has ever seen. Going from Tulsa and Tulane to Alabama’s speed and NFL-caliber talent will knock the Bearcats backs early. Given how quickly the Tide can score, I’m not sure the Bearcats can recover and go score-for-score. Alabama is fourth in the country in sacks per game, and I expect them to be in Desmond Ridder’s face early and often.
Second, Cincinnati has opposed fast-paced offenses in the AAC, but none go this fast and score this much. Just as a quick example: Alabama just tore apart Georgia’s top-ranked defense to the tune of 536 yards and 41 points with no sacks allowed and an average of 7.7 seconds per play. The Bearcats aren’t equipped to slow that type of attack down. Heisman winner Bryce Young should have his way in another convincing Alabama win.
PICK: Alabama -13.5 (-110)
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