The Bearcats Bear the Banner For the Group of 5, How Can Cincinnati Capitalize On Its One Shot Against Alabama?
The No. 4 Cincinnati Bearcats get one shot.
After a second consecutive undefeated regular season the Bearcats have earned their one shot to prove they belong in the College Football Playoffs. One shot to prove that teams from outside of the Power 5 belong on the big stage of the final four. The only problem, the Bearcats' shot comes against college football's boogie man, the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide.
So, what can the Bearcats do to carry the banner for the Group of 5 conferences against big bad Bama? Follow the blueprint laid out by the teams the Tide struggled with.
Alabama was a combined 3-1 against Florida, Texas A&M, LSU and Auburn in 2021 with a combined margin of victory of seven points. Between the four opponents the Crimson Tide offense gave up 17 sacks with a whooping seven of them occurring against the Auburn Tigers.
Can the Bearcats replicate the defensive effort of others and aggravate the Alabama offense?
Cincinnati ranks tied for 27th in the country this year accumulating 37 sacks in 13 games. The Bearcats are paced by defensive tackle Curtis Brooks, he's gotten to the quarterback 7.5 times this year and he's followed by senior captain Joel Dublanko with 5.5.
Cincinnati will have to rely on exotic pressures from its 3-3-5 defense to confuse and discombobulate an Alabama offensive line that's coming off its best performance of the season in which it allowed the Georgia Bulldogs zero sacks in the SEC Championship.
"I think it is a challenge for our offensive line. It was a challenge for them in the SEC championship game against a very good front seven. They'll have a very similar challenge in this game. I know that I hear from a lot of the folks out there in the media that the way to have a chance to beat us is to pressure the quarterback," said Alabama head coach Nick Saban. "So in many cases, it's important that the offensive line can do a good job of protecting the quarterback and not allowing that to happen so he does have a chance to operate. We've been most successful when that's been the case. So this is a very challenging game for them."
The Bearcats have been finding their pass rushing groove as the season has worn on, Cincinnati recorded three or more sacks in five of its final six games of the season. The Bearcats were able to cap of its undefeated regular season with an American Athletic Championship win over the Houston Cougars thanks in large part to an eight sack effort.
Will the Bearcats carry the banner for the Group of 5 on Friday by pushing the Tide and proving they belong?
The Crimson Tide is a 13.5 point favorite in Friday's Cotton Bowl but underdogs have covered the spread in 11-of-the-21 playoff games to date, winning seven of them outright.
Cincinnati may be heading into the Big 12 in the near future but for now the Bearcats carry the banner for the Group of 5 and their one shot is right now.