The 4 teams participating in the College Football Playoff are Alabama, Michigan, Georgia, and Cincinnati. Words cannot describe how incredibly fulfilled I am to have a Group of Five team with a seat at the table, finally. 1 to 4 are fully deserving to be included and for once, the controversy is gone.
#1 Alabama vs #4 Cincinnati
Alabama deserves to be #1 over Michigan because when you’re sitting at 3 and you beat the Top Dawg in the country, then you have the right to be the Top Dog. Alabama has a lot of talent, incredible coaching staff, and Nick Saban. Once again, the road to the Title goes through Bama.
Cincinnati has their work cut out for them. Their inclusion at #4 is bittersweet because the first time a Group of Five team gets to make the playoff is met with the opposition of Alabama. I kind of hate it for Cincinnati since they got a bad draw, however, the pity party ends before it begins because any competitor knows: “If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best”, and Luke Fickell will have them pumped up and focused in on pulling the upset.
Stats: Cincinnati and Alabama come into the game ranked #7 and #8 in Total Defense with only a 4 total yards against and .3 yards per game difference. Cincinnati has given up only 24 offensive touchdowns, which is 7 fewer than Alabama’s 31. Alabama is 8th in 3rd down conversion defense with a .319 (59/185) average and Cincinnati is at 21 with a .335 (66/197) rate. Both teams sit in the 40s of First Down Defense which means there are some areas to get ahead of the chains. Cincy has 18 INTs on the year and Bama has 15. Cincinnati is 2nd in the nation with 29 total takeaways with Alabama at 33 with 20.
The majority of those stats are defensive because it matters when you’re going up against Alabama that you can get them to punt the football. Nick Saban will look to exploit any areas of weakness and Cincinnati’s defense gives them a leg to stand on. Offensively, we’ve seen both teams struggle and we’ve seen both teams score 40+. The key will be who can hold onto the football and sustain drives and what you can do with those drives.
My gut would tell me Alabama wins but I’m a fool for a good underdog story. Cincinnati’s 0-3 history in the “BCS” Bowl Games doesn’t help matters much when you have to go to 1981 to find a season when Alabama lost the Cotton Bowl with the only major losses in Big Bowls seem to happen at the Sugar Bowl. I would’ve personally loved to see them play in the middle game with teams who play a similar style as they do but they drew Bama and hopefully Cincinnati can keep it a close game through 3 quarters. Desmond Ridder will be the X-Factor to the game. Can he live up to the moment and produce when it matters most? I sure hope so.
Prediction: Alabama (-14) over Cincinnati 36-22 (58 O/U).
#2 Michigan vs # Georgia
Jim Harbaugh finally got over the hump and defeated Ohio State to take wholly, the division formally known as Leaders, B10 East. He topped it off with Michigan’s first Big Ten Title since Llyod Carr. The thing that separated Michigan apart from past Michigan teams this year was their speed. Michigan has elite level speed at positions instead of a bunch of strong and talented players. Whenever Michigan would line up to play Ohio State in the past they just lacked some ways to curb Ohio State’s speed. This year, they not only match up with the teams with speed, they stack up top to bottom with anyone in the country.
Georgia comes into this game as the only team to lose heading into the playoff. Georgia fans wanted nothing more than to beat Alabama in the SEC Championship Game and it definitely is disappointing. However, UGA had the good fortune of being in a position where they could afford to lose to Bama because they had already clinched a playoff birth. So even though they lost the SEC championship game, it isn’t the end of the world because the ultimate goal is still attainable and UGA got into that position because of how dominating their defense played all year.
Stats: UGA is #1 in Scoring Defense and Michigan #4 (tied with Cincinnati). UGA is #2 in Total Defense (254.4 yards per game) and Michigan is #13 (316.2 ypg). Michigan is #13 in 3rd down conversion defense (.323, 65/201) and UGA is #19 (.333, 68/204). A lot of defense in this game but both teams rank 60th in Turnovers with only 16 takeaways on defense.
Maybe worse defenses would have more takeaways because of more opportunities and possibilities but whoever gets their 17th of the season will probably a play a big role in the outcome.
Michigan can run the football and play defense and UGA can play defense. We’ve seen what happens when UGA plays a good defense. Alabama may have opened the book on the UGA defense but Michigan doesn’t have the same type of offense to exploit them similarly. Ultimately, this game will be decided by UGA’s QB play. Some fans wanted J.T. Daniels to come in and finish the SEC Championship and Kirby stayed with Stetson Bennett. This could be a similar situation with Fromm and Fields so that situation will be key to keep an eye on. If UGA can throw the ball successfully then they have a chance.
Prediction: Michigan (+7.5) over Georgia 24-21 (44.5 O/U)
It’s been a long time coming…
Personally, I would’ve loved to see Bama and UGA play each other as #2 and #3 or Cincinnati play UGA or Michigan somehow. It’s been a long time coming…the landscape has shifted. Boise State, TCU, Utah, and Central Florida all had to sacrifice their potential for every reason in the book.
“They didn’t play anybody. They couldn’t do it in a Power 5 conference. They’ll get blown out if they make it.”
The same criticism could’ve been said about Cincinnati this year but eventually that same melody gets overplayed throughout the years and finally we have a team who made a major bowl last year and played a close game to UGA. Then went back out the next year and Won every game, including a top tier victory and a conference championship. They didn’t leave it up to imaginations and left it on the field during the AAC Championship Game. Leaving no doubt they deserved a seat at the table.
The groundwork has been laid. I certainly hope they can represent but if not, they are just a pathway for a future team to come and do it. The pressure is high for Cincy. It’ll be a tough game to win and if they can pull it off, it would be one for the ages. Go Bearcats.