It’s been a long, long time since football has been relevant at the end of December in Cincinnati. Hell, it has NEVER been this relevant for the Cincinnati Bearcats. That’s not a knock on the Bearcats by any stretch of the imagination, they just became the first Group of 5 team in history to make the College Football Playoff.
And to nobody’s surprise, they’re slated to play the Alabama Crimson Tide, because why wouldn’t Alabama be ranked first overall?
But Luck Fickell’s squad isn’t backing down from the challenge – they’re embracing it. I mean, why would they back down? They have nothing to lose. They aren’t supposed to be here.
Inside the Numbers
I’m not going to sit here and go through a bunch of boring stats. Anyone can do that. But there are a few important stats that stick out that could decide the game, especially if it’s close.
|3rd Down Conversions
|Rush Yards Allowed Per Game
To me, we’ll be able to look back at these three stats after the game in the box score and get an idea of who won or at least how the game went.
I’m going to start with 3rd down conversions. Plain and simply, if UC is unable to get their defense off the field on 3rd downs, it’ll be a long, brutal welcome to the College Football Playoff. Alabama is a team that thrives off of the big play – averaging almost 14 yards per completion. I do think Cincinnati possesses the best corners in the nation and even Alabama will find out it won’t be easy to beat them over the top. It’ll boil down to the front 7 not allowing the Heisman to extend plays with his feet and getting the ball back to Desmond Ridder.
The ground game is tricky to figure out for me in this one. This game isn’t going to be like Michigan vs Georgia. I think Alabama will test Cincy’s Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner and Coby Bryant early and often. Like I said, I think Bryce Young and Co. will find out quickly their best option to beat Cincinnati will be on the ground where the Bearcats have been vulnerable all year long. On the flip side, Bama’s stingy run defense could have UC abandoning the run early. The Crimson Tide are 2nd in the country in run defense allowing just 2.51 yards per rush, while being very vulnerable in the secondary. The Bearcats will need a huge game passing the ball from Desmond Ridder.
Last but not least – turnovers. Both teams in this matchup have won the turnover battle all year long. Cincinnati flat out can not afford to turn the ball over. Alabama will take advantage of any self-inflicted Bearcat mistakes and strike quickly. When the clock is all zeroes at the end of the 4th quarter, the turnover margin might tell us if the game was a blowout before even checking the score. Or maybe, just maybe, it tells us that Cincinnati is on their way to the National Championship.