2021 concludes tonight; but first, the College Football Playoff will send two teams to the national title game. This year gave us one of the craziest college football seasons in history, but the four best teams clearly stood out at the end of the regular season. Let’s get right to it with brief previews and predictions ahead of today’s matchups.
Cotton Bowl Classic | 3:30 PM ET
No. 4 Cincinnati vs. No. 1 Alabama
The undefeated Cincinnati Bearcats became the first non-Power Five school to make the College Football Playoff, and they will jump right in for a date with the top program in the country and the defending champion Alabama Crimson Tide led by legendary head coach Nick Saban. In terms of sheer talent, Cincinnati has not seen the type of speed and athleticism they’ll see from Bama. However, the Bearcats defense has shown it’s one of the best units in the country, with multiple star players led by Ahmad Gardner, Coby Bryant, and Myjai Sanders. Gardner and Bryant have the ability to contend with Alabama’s premier talent on the outside (headlined by Jameson Williams, with John Metchie unfortunately out for the Tide after tearing his ACL).
The bigger issue for the underdog Bearcats might be moving the ball and scoring points on offense, though Alabama has been somewhat vulnerable there at times this season. The good news for Cincinnati is that they are led by senior quarterback Desmond Ridder. Ridder hasn’t faced a team like Alabama, but his tremendous experience should be a major benefit in what’ll be a tough situation. On the other side, the Crimson Tide offense is led by Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young, who is somewhat of a magician at quarterback. One more thing to watch: Cincinnati running back Jerome Ford played his first two seasons at Alabama before transferring in 2020.
Overall, Luke Fickell’s squad has overcome the odds to get this far, and they might overcome the odds again to make this closer than most anticipate. But Alabama has just too much firepower and CFP experience.
Prediction: Alabama 34, Cincinnati 21
Orange Bowl | 7:30 PM ET
No. 3 Georgia vs. No. 2 Michigan
While Georgia is a 7.5-point favorite over Michigan, the Orange Bowl should be a closer game and more of a toss-up to conclude New Year’s Eve. Both teams are extremely physical. The Bulldogs boast one of the best defenses in recent memory, allowing just 9.5 points per game, which by far leads the nation. But Michigan is tied for fourth in scoring defense (with Cincinnati), allowing 16.1 points per game. Powered by Hassan Haskins, the Wolverines are tenth in the country with 223.8 rushing yards per game, and the Bulldogs have racked up 194.9 rushing yards per game in the SEC—but neither offense boasts a high-octane passing attack (both are outside the top 50 in passing yards per game).
Still, both teams can score big points. Michigan got more creative offensively this season, but they still want to play power football the way football fans are used to seeing from Jim Harbaugh dating back to his time at Stanford and in the NFL with the 49ers. And Kirby Smart and offensive coordinator Todd Monken have pushed the right buttons with the quarterback position this season, riding with Stetson Bennett, who has overcome many doubters while helping lead his team to an outstanding run. Bennett’s ability to extend plays with his legs should come into play tonight. Ultimately, Georgia wants to win the game with their defense.
However, Michigan would not mind a defensive battle at all. And after handling Ohio State, they probably feel they can beat anyone. The pass rush for the Wolverines is probably the key, with Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo both coming off the edge. In the end, the Georgia defense—which has new Oregon head coach Dan Lanning still on as the defensive coordinator for the CFP—might just be too dominant, and Stetson Bennett might be more reliable to make key plays and keep drives going than Michigan’s Cade McNamara.
Prediction: Georgia 24, Michigan 21
Too many points for Cinci