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Alabama has a Challenge in Cincinnati

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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If Alabama beats the Bearcats, it will be another triumph, for the Crimson Tide, over one of the top teams in the country.

Alabama better be ready for quite the challenge in the upcoming Cotton Bowl as the College Football Playoff gets underway. Given the track records of the greatest coach of all-time and a program that very well may hold the exact same distinction, expect Alabama, which makes it a point to play with a championship standard each and every game, to be completely focused on and prepared for Cincinnati. Make no mistake about it, however, the undefeated Bearcats are deserving of the Crimson Tide's complete and undivided attention. 

The defending national champions have earned the right to be the nation's top-ranked team. They should very much be considered the favorites. 

Number one Alabama is 12-1, with one loss by three points on the road against a now-ranked foe on the final play of the game, and has currently won seven contests in a row. Quite impressively, the Crimson Tide both looked and played the part in a 41-24 statement win over previously-undefeated Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. That afternoon, Alabama scored more points than the Bulldogs' five last opponents combined. Quarterback Bryce Young promptly set a new title game record with 421 passing yards.  

Over the last few weeks, Young famously became the first Crimson Tide quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy, linebacker Will Anderson claimed the Nagurski Award and ten different Alabama players, at eleven different positions, were named first or second-team All-SEC. Any criticisms of the Crimson Tide are relative.

On game week, Alabama is a near-two touchdown favorite over Cincinnati. The Crimson Tide, it obviously goes without saying, have more than earned the benefit of the doubt. Many are projecting a comfortable win for Alabama in Dallas, with some even downplaying the match entirely. Though the Crimson Tide, as their last game showed, are capable of pulling away from any team in college football, Luke Fickell and the Bearcats aren't just on the nation's longest winning streak, they are on a mission.

Against the odds, Cincinnati has made history, becoming the first Group of Five team to make the playoff. Just as the Bearcats had to scratch and claw for this opportunity, not to mention simple respect, in some instances, they are eager to validate their newfound position against the game's generational standard. Clearly, this is the program's biggest game, spotlight and opportunity ever. Expect this group to play like it. The potential for further affirmation, success many simply deem unrealistic, is there.

Cincinnati is happy to be here, sure, but the Bearcats aren't just happy to be here.    

This is a great team, one that beat number five Notre Dame on the road by multiple scores. The average total of Cincinnati's games against two currently ranked opponents was the Bearcats winning 41.5 to 16.5; the average total of Alabama's games against four currently ranked foes was the Crimson Tide winning 40.8 to 30.3. Cincinnati is clearly the underdog, but the Bearcats have gone 24-1 in their last 25 games, losing only to Georgia on a last second field goal in a game where they never once trailed until that moment.

Looking ahead, Cincinnati has a roster filled with day one and two NFL Draft prospects. Cornerback Ahmad Gardner, quarterback Desmond Ridder and edge Myjai Sanders give the Bearcats three of the top 48 prospects on PFF's Big Board, the same number as Alabama with tackle Evan Neal, receiver Jameson Williams and safety Jordan Battle. The Crimson Tide do also have receiver John Metchie III (49) and edge Christian Harris (59) both listed. Point is, Cincinnati has star, next-level power, too.

Part of what has make Saban's Alabama a dynasty is a rare attention to detail and a respect for every opponent and opportunity. The Crimson Tide, to a man, will be good to go. They should be. They may need to be.

The talking points that Cincinnati either didn't earn a bid or can't challenge Alabama are simply unfair to both the Bearcats and the Crimson Tide. This is the final four. Furthermore, there are matchup breakdowns that suggest the Cotton Bowl may actually be the closer of the two College Football Playoff semifinal games. Cincinnati, for point of reference, has one more win over a team currently ranked in the top 20 than Georgia and the same number of ranked wins as Michigan.

If Alabama beats the Bearcats, it will be another triumph, for the Crimson Tide, over one of the top teams in the country. Should they win close, it will still be a notable achievement. Don't give Cincinnati, or Alabama, any less than that.

Another championship run continues for the Crimson Tide. Another spotlight game and accomplished opponent awaits.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports