2021 College Football Playoff Preview

Will+the+College+Football+National+Championship+trophy+will+go+back+to+Alabama+this+year%2C+or+will+Michigan%2C+Georgia+or+Cincinnati+crash+the+party+to+claim+the+title%3F

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Will the College Football National Championship trophy will go back to Alabama this year, or will Michigan, Georgia or Cincinnati crash the party to claim the title?

Michael Zarich, Staff Writer

The 2021 College Football Playoff kicks off on New Year’s Eve with two semifinal matchups.

In the Cotton Bowl the  No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide faces off against the fourth-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats. The Orange Bowl will showcase the No. 2 Michigan Wolverines against the third-seeded Georgia Bulldogs.

Here’s a breakdown of these matchups and  a full preview of the playoff excitement headed our way on New Year’s Eve.

No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide (-13.5) vs No. 4 Cincinnati Bearcats

Dec. 31, 12:30 p.m., Cotton Bowl Classic, A&T Stadium, Dallas

The first game of the 2021 College Football Playoff features the top-seeded Alabama Crimson Tide against the No. 4 Cincinnati Bearcats. Alabama has been in seven of the eight college football playoffs, and they are the reigning champions. 

The Tide are coming off an absolute  beatdown of the former top ranked Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC Championship, winning 41-24. The kings of college football are huge favorites against Cincinnati, the undefeated American Athletic Conference Champion. 

For Cincinnati, it’s amazing how they’ve gotten here. They beat a top 10 team in Notre Dame already earlier in the year but now have a chance to show if they can hang with the top dogs in football. The Bearcats are the first from the smaller conference Group of 5 teams to ever make the playoffs and are led by National Coach of the Year Luke Fickell. 

Here is a complete preview and breakdown of the Cotton Bowl matchup: 

Cincinnati

Offense: The offense starts and ends with quarterback Desmond Ridder. He has a high IQ and will take what the defense gives him. The whole Cincinnati offense is based off of getting favorable matchups, so Ridder is very good at giving his playmakers a chance to do something great. 

Ridder’s most valuable asset is his legs and his ability to escape the pockett.  His best weapon is 6-foot-3, 213-pound receiver Alec Pierce. Cincinnati loves to put him in favorable one-on-one matchups to let him go up and make a play . Cincinnati’s offensive line and running game doesn’t match well at all against Alabama’s big defensive front, so they’ll need to rely on Riddler to use his legs and the defense to come up with turnovers.

Defense: The defense, on the other hand, is a top unit in the country and has playmakers on every level of the field. Cincinnati brings a tough and physical line which generated pressure at a 61 percent rate and eight sacks against Houston in the AAC championship. The most interesting matchup to watch in this game is Cincinnati’s secondary against Alabama’s high flying receiving core. 

Alabama will be without star receiver John Metchie but will still have speedster Jameson Williams. Cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner is one of  the best physical press coverage corners and might be the first one taken in the 2022 NFL Draft. Beside Gardner is Coby White, the Thorpe Award winner for the best defensive back in the nation.

The game plan for the Bearcats should be to blitz Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, force a turnover and let their talented secondary matchup against Alabama’s receivers. 

AAC Stats

Offense

428.1 ypg (5th)

248.7 passing ypg (5th)

179.4 rushing ypg (3rd)

Total ppg 39.2 (1st)

Defense

Ypg 305.8 (2nd)

168.3 passing ypg (1st)

137.5 rushing ppg (3rd)

16.1 total ppg (1st)

Alabama

Offense: After dismantling Georgia in the Sec championship, Alabama has reclaimed the #1 spot in the rankings. Much of this is due to Young, the Heisman winner who absolutely exposed the Bulldogs’ defense by throwing for 421 yards. He’s one of the best pocket passers in CFB and will have a very fun matchup against the talented Cincy secondary.  

Defense: The defense starts with the best linebacker in the game in Will Anderson, who led the nation with 13.5 sacks and 32.5 tackles for loss. Henry To’oTo’o is another top linebacker who is very smart and quick to the ball. One of the best at tackling in the open field. In the secondary, Jordan Battle and Josh Jobe are all impact players. 

Cincy will have a tough time moving the ball downfield against this elite defense filled with NFL and all league talent.

SEC Stats

Offense

495.5 total ypg (2nd)

347.9 passing ypg (2nd)

147.6 rushing ypg (10th) 

42.2 total ppg (1st)

Defense:

Ypg 306.2 (2nd)

223 passing ypg  (8th)

82.8 rushing ypg (2nd)

Total ppg 20.2 (3rd)

Final Thoughts: For Alabama, it all depends on which team shows up. Will it be the team that let Auburn take them to overtime, or will it be the team that dismantled the undefeated Bulldogs? Alabama knows they’re the better team so as long as they don’t let Cincy hang around they should be fine.

No. 2 Michigan Wolverines vs No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs (-7.5)

Dec. 31, 4:30 p.m. Orange Bowl, Hard Rock Stadium, Miami

Michigan advanced to its first College Football Playoff under coach Jim Harbaugh after finishing the season 12-1. The Wolverines dominated their biggest rival Ohio State in the last week of the season, winning 42-27. That marked the first time in a decade Michigan beat Ohio State. 

The Wolverines then capped that off by destroying Iowa 42-3 for the BIG Ten championship. This has been a special season for Harbaugh and Michigan hopes to continue its red hot streak against a tough Georgia team. 

For the entire regular season Georgia seemed to be the best team in the nation, outscoring opponents by an average of 39 points and giving up only nine points per game. The defense looked like the best in school history until Alabama hit them for 41 points. 

The Dawgs were unraveled by their archrival in Alabama which now puts them in the No. 3 spot against Michigan. Michigan and Georgia have two very similar playing styles, so this matchup should be a fun one.

Michigan

Offense: Michigan’s offense is completely based on their run game. Senior standout Haasan Haskins is the pound for pound running back who dismantled Ohio State by scoring five TDs. He’s rushed for more than 1,000 yards and is a big key player on offense. 

Michigan led the BIG Ten in rushing and boasts one of the nation’s top offensive lines. One of the most impressive aspects of their offense this season is how creative they can be in both the running game and passing games. Look for Michigan to try some trick plays to get chunk plays and attack the Georgia secondary. 

Georgia’s only weak spot on defense is the secondary, which allowed 421 yards in the SEC Championship Game to Alabama. Michigan’s play action is used to complement the running game, but quarterback Cade McNamara is going to need to hit some big throws if they want to win this game. 

Defense: On the defensive side of the ball, defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, a Heisman finalist, will be a major problem for Georgia after setting the Wolverines’ single-season record of 14 sacks this year. He’s been a one-man wrecking crew and will need to be on display once again.  Linebacker Davis Ojabo is another physical linebacker who has 11 sacks this year. 

Big Ten Stats

Offense:

451.9  total ypg (2nd)

228.1 passing ypg (7th)

223 rushing ypg (1st)

37.7 ppg (2nd)

Defense:

16.1 ppg (1st)

Rushing Against 121 yp/g (6th)

Passing D 194 ypg ( 3rd)

316.2 total ypg

Georgia

Offense: Georgia is another team led by their tough physical defense and then the running game. Something to look for on the offense is if quarterback Stenson Bennett can have a rebound game after throwing two interceptions, one of them being a pick six, against Alabama.

There’s been a lot of controversy on whether Georgia should start Bennett or JT Daniels. Whoever is quarterback is going to need to have a big game. Georgia’s offensive line has only allowed eight sacks all season, so it’s a must to stop Michigan’s d-line, especially Hutchinson. 

A key player on the offense is tight end Brock Bowers, who looked unguardable in the SEC Championship Game with 10 catches, 139 yards and a TD. He’ll need to be the X factor for Georgia’s offense, especially during play action and up the seam. 

Defense: Georgia’s defense was the top ranked unit in the nation this season until they got exposed against Alabama. The Tide targeted their secondary which worked. The good thing for Georgia is that Michigan’s offense works right into the strengths of the Bulldogs top-ranked defensive line.  

The defense is absolutely loaded but two impact players are Jordan Davis, a monster at defensive tackle who stops everything going his way, and linebacker Jakobe Dean, who is very athletic and led the team in sacks. 

SEC Stats

Offense:

442 total ypg (7th)

247.9 passing ypg (5th)

195 rushing ypg (6th)

40 ppg (2nd)

Defense: 

9.5 ppg 

81.7 rushing  ypg

172.2 passing ypg

253.9  Total ypg

Final thoughts: Since this is a strength on strength matchup, the team that can win in the trenches and dominate physically will have the most success. Both these teams are built for playing with a lead, so if one falls behind the game could get out of reach.