The Cincinnati Bearcats, Alabama Football’s College Football Playoff opponent is not an easy team to evaluate. Luke Fickell has done an outstanding job in his five seasons as the Bearcats head coach. After his first season record of 4-8 in 2017, the Bearcats have a four-season run of 44 wins and six losses.
Cincinnati’s October upset of Notre Dame suggested the Bearcats might be better than just a very good Group of Five team. Just how good they are, is a difficult question to answer. The Bearcats have been ranked in the AP Poll, Top 25, since beating UCF in October 2019. They have also not been ranked outside the poll’s Top 10 since October 2020.
Two primary reasons it is hard to rate the Bearcats are roster quality, based on recruiting, and strength of schedule. It is not entirely Fickell’s fault, but his team has lots of wins against bad football teams. In the 2021 season, five of Cincinnati’s wins came against teams with losing records, The combined record of those five teams is 12-47. Two more 2021 wins came against 6-6 teams. The 2021 schedule included only two teams that lost less than four games. Only beating what became an eight-loss Navy team by seven points was another resume deflator.
Early in the season, beating Indiana was presented as a big win. But the Hoosiers faltered to a 2-10 record. If Houston can be considered a quality opponent, the Bearcats have two credible wins. The defining one was the 11-point victory over Notre Dame in South Bend. However, beating Notre Dame does not suddenly make a team elite.
Talent Gap between Alabama Football and Cincinnati
Luke Fickell is to be commended for what he has achieved on the field, considering the talent level he has been able to recruit. Based on the 247Sports Composite rankings, Fickell’s three most recent signing classes were ranked No. 45, No. 41 and No. 66. With only a few exceptions those classes were filled by 3-Star and lower-rated players. The top recruit in the three classes, backup quarterback, Evan Prater was rated the No. 174 player overall. Fickell’s other signees were ranked in the 300s to the 700s or not ranked at all.
Given these recruiting weaknesses, Alabama Football will have an advantage in the trenches, particularly against the Bearcats’ offensive line. To counter the weak recruiting, Fickell has improved his roster with transfer players. One example, former Crimson Tide running back, Jerome Ford is having a strong season, rushing for over 1,200 yards.
The polls and many algorithms conclude the Bearcats are a strong team, despite everything discussed above. Maybe that is correct. Perhaps the Bearcats are a legitimate Playoff team. Or they might be an over-hyped team that feeds an underdog story. A story fueled by widespread, national frustration with the few teams selected for the Playoffs in its first seven years.
Some national pundits, discounting the Tide’s win in the SEC Championship game, still believe Georgia remains the favorite to win the National Championship.