No. 1 Alabama meets No. 4 Cincinnati in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Cotton Bowl Classic on Dec. 31.
Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Tex. The game will be televised on ESPN. For those who love the David vs Goliath narrative, it is here.
Alabama (12-1) is making its seventh CFP appearance and looking for its seventh national championship since Nick Saban took over in 2007. Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young leads an offense that averaged 42.5 points per game, and the Crimson Tide feature a defense led by Nagurski Trophy winner Will Anderson, Jr. It’s business as usual for Alabama; a 14-point favorite in the matchup.
SN PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Alabama’s Bryce Young
Cincinnati (13-0) is the first Group of 5 school to make the CFP. The American Athletic Conference champions took the experience from last year’s Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl appearance against Georgia, and ran the table. Senior quarterback Desmond Ridder and Alabama transfer Jerome Ford lead the offense, and SN All-American cornerbacks Ahmad Gardner and Coby Bryant lead the defense.
The winner earns a trip to the CFP championship game on Jan. 10 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. With that in mind, here is what you should know about betting on the CFP semifinal matchup between the Crimson Tide and Bearcats:
SN COACH OF THE YEAR: Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell
Alabama vs. Cincinnati betting odds
- Spread: Alabama -14
- Over/under: 58
- Moneyline: Alabama -620, Cincinnati +430
Three trends to know
— Alabama was 6-6 ATS as a favorite this season, but this is the Crimson Tide’s lowest spread as a favorite this season. Alabama was 3-2 ATS when favored by less than 20 points.
— The Crimson Tide are 14-5 S/U in bowl games under Saban, but they are 10-9 ATS in those games.
— Cincinnati is an impressive 6-12 S/U as an underdog under Fickell, and is 11-7 ATS in those games.
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Three things to watch
— Play-making QBs. Young won the Heisman Trophy after passing for 4,322 yards with 43 TDs and four interceptions. He does not run as much, but he did have 40-plus rushing yards in the victories against Tennessee and Georgia. Ridder, meanwhile, is 43-5 as a starter for the Bearcats. He had 40-plus rushing yards in five games, but he’s a pass-first quarterback and an excellent decision-maker. Ridder threw six interceptions in Cincinnati’s last seven games, so he will have to protect the football.
— Bama WRs vs. Cincinnati CBs. How does Alabama replace John Metchie III opposite Jameson Williams? That’s a question worth watching because Cincinnati has two potential first-round cornerbacks in Gardner and Bryant. Both had a rating higher than 85.0 on Pro Football Focus this season, and the Bearcats allowed just 10 passing TDs. Traeshon Holden (211 yards, 1 TD), Javon Baker (101 yards, 1 TD) and Ja’Corey Brooks (79 yards, TD) are the receivers with a chance to step up with Metchie III out.
— The running game. Alabama’s only CFP semifinal loss came to Ohio State in 2015 in a matchup where Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 230 yards and two TDs. Ford, an Alabama transfer, has been the key to the Bearcats’ running game. The Crimson Tide allow just 2.5 yards per carry, and Anderson has 32.5 tackles for loss. On the flip side, Alabama’s Brian Robinson Jr. will look for room against a Cincinnati defense that allowed just 3.3 yards per carry. The Crimson Tide are less dependent on the running game, but they cannot abandon it early.
Stat that matters
Since losing that first semifinal to Ohio State in 2015, the Crimson Tide have won their last five CFP semifinals by an average of 20.2 points per game. Alabama has outscored those five opponents (Michigan State, Washington, Clemson, Oklahoma, Notre Dame) by a total score of 89-27 in the first half. Can Cincinnati upset that by scoring early against the Crimson Tide and avoiding that knockout punch?
Alabama vs. Cincinnati prediction
It won’t be easy. Alabama will be aggressive early in the passing game with Young, even with Metchie out. Slade Bolden could be a frequent target to set up the deep passing game. The Crimson Tide will get ahead early, and Ridder will be taken out of his comfort zone in the passing game. The Bearcats will make a few plays, but the Crimson Tide have been in this spot too many times. The Crimson Tide cover with a late TD that sends a message to the Georgia-Michigan winner.
Final score: Alabama 40, Cincinnati 20