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Cincinnati Bearcats face Alabama in college football playoff; biggest game in program history

cincinnati bearcats
Courtesy University of Cincinnati

The No. 4 ranked undefeated Cincinnati Bearcats football team faces top-ranked Alabama in the Cotton Bowl Classic in Dallas Friday afternoon to see who will be playing for the National Championship.

According to ESPN, Cincinnati had a 3% chance to make the College Football Playoff back in September. Since then, the Bearcats have become the first Group of Five team to grab one of the four coveted playoff spots.

Bill Koch is the featured columnist for He's covered Bearcats football and basketball for more than three decades at the Cincinnati Post and the Enquirer and says this is the biggest game in the program's history.

"They've never been on this big of a stage before where they actually have a path to win a national championship in football," Koch said. "For them to get to this point where they're going to play Alabama, which is probably the most recognizable name in college football, for the chance to advance to a national championship game, this is by far the biggest game in program history."

Cincinnati is going into this game as a big underdog. The Crimson Tide are 13.5-point favorites according to oddsmakers. Alabama is also going into this game with Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young leading the offense at quarterback. However, the Bearcats are armed with AAC Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year Desmond Ridder at quarterback and Ahmad Gardner at cornerback. Koch says there's no reason Cincinnati can't win this.

"They've won 13 games in a row this year, 22 games against one loss over the last two years, so they're used to winning," Koch said. "They're not going to go into this game thinking, 'We don't have a chance.' They're going to go into this game thinking they're every bit as good as Alabama. If they can get some momentum early in the game, capitalize when they have the chance, don't turn the ball over, I don't see any reason why they can't make a game of it."

A chance to play for the national title has been a longtime dream for many Bearcats fans. Cody Myers hosts the '4th and Long Winded' podcast covering college football. He made the trip from the Queen City to AT&T Stadium to witness the game in-person. He says it's a "one-in-a-million" opportunity to witness the first ever playoff game with a Group of Five school.

"Group of Five teams deserve a shot," Myers said. "They have the same number of scholarships. They can compete with these Power Five teams and it was more of like how do I not go? I really felt like I had to take that opportunity."

Myers is rooting for the Bearcats to win but is hoping for a close game. Despite the odds, he believes the Bearcats have a shot.

"This is probably the toughest game that they will ever play," Myers said. "It is the biggest game in program history. We were literally looking at the Notre Dame game [as] the biggest game in program history and now we are in the same season hitting Alabama. We're going against two of the all-time great programs in the season and maybe they have some magic left in them."

Cincinnati comes into this game with two consecutive AAC Conference Championships being led by Head Coach Luke Fickell, who is the 2021 Home Depot Coach of the Year. Alabama has the most all-time wins and championships in the College Football Playoff and is led by Head Coach Nick Saban who has won seven National Championships.

The 2021 Cotton Bowl Classic airs Friday on ESPN at 3:30.

Cory Sharber attended Murray State University majoring in journalism and political science and comes to Cincinnati Public Radio from NPR Member station WKMS.