Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel and Pete Thamel, and Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde discuss Cincinnati’s path to victory against the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide, and debate if the Bearcats have a legitimate shot at the National Championship Game.
DAN WETZEL: So semifinal one, we call it the Cotton Bowl, right? It's the Cotton Bowl, it's not the Cotton Bowl. We're not even [? playing ?] the Cotton Bowl. But played over by the Walmart-- Arlington Walmart. Cincinnati versus Alabama. 3:30 on New Year's Eve, a convenient time for everybody.
PAT FORDE: Absolutely.
DAN WETZEL: It's currently Bama's 13 and 1/2 that has stayed below the two touchdowns. I thought that would get up to three scores, like 14 and 1/2 to 15. That's not. 80% of the bets and money are on Bama, though. What are your thoughts on this game now that that's settled at all? Has anything changed from the last time we talked about it, which was when it first came out?
PETE THAMEL: I have talked myself into Cincinnati being able to win this game. I'm not saying they're going to.
PAT FORDE: Win? To win? Not just cover, but win?
PETE THAMEL: There's like a--
PAT FORDE: All right, let's hear it.
PETE THAMEL: There's a path to victory here is all I'm saying. And I have not yet quizzed all the coaches who played--
PAT FORDE: Make sure you're recording this, Sully. Make sure you're recording.
PETE THAMEL: Yes. When they lose 42-3, Sully, we can play this on a loop.
DAN WETZEL: What is that path, Pete?
PETE THAMEL: I would probably be closer than most of my bull picks already. This is the path to victory thesis on how Cincinnati can win this game. Alabama is not as-- you're never as good as your best game or as bad as your worst game, right? So Alabama is a very good team. If this was 2020 Alabama, they would win by-- they would be Cincinnati just like they beat everyone else.
I feel like with their secondary being banged up and I feel like with Jameson Williams being the only really high-end receiver that they have because of the injury to John Metchie, there's a chance for Alabama's offense-- which suddenly became explosive against Georgia, but had been fits and starts, somewhat middling bad O-line all year-- there's a chance for Cincinnati to hold them in the 20s.
I think that's where this starts. If Sauce Gardner and Coby Bryant, their two All-American corners, can limit the passing game and they can stack the box a little bit-- and Alabama's O-line is pedestrian and their tailback is [? average ?] grits per Alabama tailbacks. And if Cincinnati can clog up the middle with the outside being taken care of some and not give Bryce Young the chance to dance and move, I just think their offense is not going to be as good as it was against Georgia.
And so I feel like Cincinnati's defense, they have heavy backers. Physically, they're not going to get mauled by that Alabama offensive line. So I feel like Cincinnati can at least control slash slow Alabama down.
And then offensively-- so again, I'm going to play a Pat Forde in the podcast and argue with myself a little bit here. The argument against Cincinnati is a very simple one-- their offensive line is a mediocre AAC offensive line. Will Anderson could well have one of his, like, five TFL days.
I do like the fact that Cincinnati's tackles are pedestrian, but they do have two excellent tight ends, and they could live in 12 personnel the whole game. And I feel like if they bunch it up and can hold together up front, Desmond Ridder is going to figure out a way to move the ball, Alec Pierce is one of the breakout stars of the season. I feel like they have enough punch-- Jerome Ford, former Alabama tailback, is a very good player.
There's a way they could win this game 21-20. Am I saying that's going to happen? No, but-- and look, they could lose 41-3. I want to be very clear, that option is still on the table. But I think Cincinnati is going to be able to hang and swing with Alabama, and it's not a ridiculous notion to me because Auburn did as such, Arkansas did as such, A&M obviously beat them. And there was one other pretty--
PAT FORDE: LSU.
PETE THAMEL: Yeah, LSU. Yeah. Those are pretty pedestrian teams. So again, there's Saban and the month prep and get it, but I just want to get it out there-- I think Cincinnati can win this football game. So tape and mock later.
PAT FORDE: I'm with you on one side of the ball. I mean, I do think Cincinnati's defense can keep this competitive. The one X factor there is just Bryce Young running around, whether it's scrambling or whether it's just buying time and making plays.
The other side, I think Cincinnati's offense is going to be up against it. I really do. And I just go to that offensive line, and you must block Will Anderson. And you can go 12 personnel, I don't know whether you're blocking Will Anderson anyway. That's a problem, and then can you just hold up well enough to run the ball and then well enough to keep them off of Desmond Ritter's back?
And that's where I can see Alabama scoring in the 20s, but I can also see Cincinnati scoring in the teens. I could see Cincinnati covering the spread. I can't find a way for them to get enough points to win the game unless Alabama turns the ball over-- which, you know, those things happen. But if everybody plays a relatively clean game, I don't think they can get there.