CFB Playoff Review: The Tide Rolls at The Cotton Bowl

Well, we wanted to find out if the Group of 5 could live with the Power 5 – more specifically, the SEC – and I guess we got our answer. A brave, valiant, respectable effort from the Cincinnati Bearcats, but one that really never laid anything more than a jab on the Alabama Crimson Tide’s defense.

It was a shame in a way – Luke Fickell’s guys are really easy to root for, especially their maverick QB Desmond Ridder – as this was a real chance for Cincy to burst through the Glass Ceiling of the College Football Playoff and establish themselves on the National Stage. It didn’t quite happen, but you could definitely make an argument that Cincinnati even having the chance to compete in the Playoff means that Glass Ceiling has cracked somewhat already.

Bama In Control From Start To Finish

Credit: AL.Com

Strangely, for a game that finished with just 33 points in it, early on there were glimmers of an offensive battle, with two good drives to open the game. Alabama’s was a true statement: they ran it straight at Cincinnati, not throwing a pass until they were inside the 10 yard line. Oh, and that went from Bryce Young to Slade Bolden for an 8 yard TD. Saban’s script out of the gate was the stuff of dreams for fans of “smash mouth” football.

Cincy responded fairly well; avoiding a 3-and-out on their own opening drive was essential, and Ridder was able to work the ball into the Red Zone. The Bearcats had 1st and goal at the Bama 8, but threw incomplete on their next two downs before a screen was blown up and Fickell had to settle for a Field Goal.

Still, 7-3 was far from a nightmare start, but it showed off the pattern for the game that would be the deciding factor. When Cincy got deep into Alabama territory, they stalled out. When Bama got into Bearcat country, they were clinical. Ja’Corey Brooks caught a 44 yard bomb from Young late in the first half, which extended the lead to 14 and felt very significant in the moment.  You never truly believed Cincinnati had what it took to recover from a multiple touchdown deficit.

The Tide led 17-3 at HT, and you felt like Cincinnati had to score 7 on the opening possession of the 3rd Quarter to really stand a chance. When that time came, once again, Cincinnati had to settle for 3, and from that point on Bama put the hammer down. They ran, and ran, and ran the ball for over 300 yards as a team. Brian Robinson Jr was rightly named the Most Valuable Offensive Player after rushing for over 200 yards himself, and into 5th place all-time in the Cotton Bowl game.

As the Confetti fell… with the final score 27-6… Nick Saban, looking nowhere near as happy as he should have (in my opinion), politely applauded as Robinson placed the Alabama logo firmly on the CFP Bracket. It’s now 8 years since the Playoff was created… and Alabama have been in the Final 6 times. That’s beyond a dynasty. It’s true greatness.

Cincinnati Should Be Proud

Spare a thought for Cincinnati: it was one step too far for them. Ridder wasn’t himself, the defense (as good as “Sauce” Gardner and Coby Bryant are) couldn’t stop the run up front, and when they needed a big play it just wasn’t there for them. They can be immensely proud with what they accomplished, and I hope it’s not the last time we see Fickell lead the Bearcats out on this stage.

Their fans – in particular – were ELECTRIC. They dwarfed the Bama fans in noise from Pre-Game until late in the 2nd half when it became apparent the outcome had been decided. I particularly enjoyed them booing the hell out of anyone wearing anything that wasn’t a Cincinnati shirt, including a mixed reaction for Patrick Mahomes of all people… before EXPLODING with adulation for Travis Kelce making his presence known on the JumboTron.

They didn’t leave with the win they wanted, but I’m sure Bearcat nation gained a lot of fans for the vibes they brought with them to Dallas. I know I’ll be cheering for them in future – no doubt.

The National Championship Game

Credit: Matthew Emmons (USA Today Sports)

And so… we’re left looking at a National Championship game that… we’ve already seen. Ugh. By the time I’d exited AT&T Stadium and got onto the Bus back to Dallas, the second Semi-Final was all but over, with Georgia racing out into a multi-possession lead over Michigan, and never looking back.

I know, I know, I know – it’s the SEC… it’s the “best conference in the country.” Sure. Nobody is disagreeing with that. But… it’s also… boring!? Maybe that’s harsh. Disappointing? Probably more apt. On the inside, I was certainly rooting for a Cincinnati vs Michigan National Championship Game. Give me something new. Give me excitement. I don’t want the Patriots in the Super Bowl every season and I don’t want the Crimson Tide in the CFP every year either!

Look, sure, there are enough storylines in Georgia getting to face Alabama again (revenge for SEC Title Game, Kirby trying to finally beat his former mentor, flashbacks to the “Tua Game” of 2018) but we have seen it before. The problem is, the gap between the top SEC teams and… everyone else… doesn’t appear to be getting any smaller just yet. With NIL & the Transfer Portal, I’m choosing to hope that they will level the playing field, and allow more schools to get top talents who might otherwise be sat on benches unable to breakthrough and showcase their talents.

Maybe it’s wishful thinking… but I still dream of an expanded College Football Playoff bracket involving teams from 7 or 8 conferences… and a winner from the MAC. Hey, that’s why they’re dreams right?! 

Thank You

I’d like to quickly say a massive thank you to Scottie Rodgers and his team at the Cotton Bowl, who put on an absolutely first-class event. I was incredibly lucky to be able to be there, and am so grateful to the Cotton Bowl for having us. For a kid who grew up in North London, and got into American Football as a teenager, the experience of being inside the Press Box in “Jerry World” for a game of this magnitude is one it would be impossible to forget. A dream come true wouldn’t come close to covering it.

Special mention to the “Cowboys Mac & Cheese” which is legitimately the best I’ve ever had in my entire life. Overall, it was an absolutely incredible experience. Here’s to many more in the future, fingers crossed. Congratulations Alabama… I’ll always have a soft spot for you Cincy.

Callum Squires