Previewing The 2021 College Football Playoff

After a season full of surprises, the final College Football Playoff (CFP) rankings are here. Each year, the top four ranked schools enter the tournament with a chance to play in the CFP National Championship. The teams are determined by a 13-member Selection Committee composed of college athletic directors.

The University of Alabama’s upset of the University of Georgia in the SEC championship on Dec. 4, 2021, propelled the Crimson Tide to the No. 1 spot in the rankings, while the Bulldogs dropped to No. 3. 

In the Big Ten championship, the University of Michigan capped off a stunning season with a 42-3 win over the University of Iowa. With this win, Michigan secured its spot as the No. 2 team in the country.

The University of Cincinnati made CFP history on Dec. 4, 2021, after defeating the University of Houston in the AAC championship. Cincinnati held onto its spot as the No. 4 team in the country, becoming the first Group of Five schools to make the tournament.

Each year, two of the famed New Year’s Six bowl games are chosen to serve as the semifinals in the CFP. This year, Alabama will face Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl Classic and Michigan will play Georgia in the Orange Bowl.  Both semifinal games will take place on Dec. 31, 2021.

No. 1 Alabama vs No. 4 Cincinnati 

Alabama has had a tumultuous season. The Crimson Tide began the season with an impressive 5-0 record before falling to Texas A&M University. Alabama finished the season with an 11-1 regular-season record and went on to defeat Georgia in the SEC championship. 

Alabama, under head coach Nick Saban, has won two of the last five national championships and has won the SEC championship three of the last five seasons. Alabama’s offense is ranked sixth in total yards per game and fourth in points per game, the highest of any CFP team.

Cincinnati, building off of their success from last year, entered the 2021 season with a massive chip on their shoulder. The Bearcats went 9-0 during the shortened 2020 season, but failed to qualify for the CFP, leading many Cincinnati fans to criticize the tournament for excluding a school from a smaller market.

In 2021, Cincinnati again went undefeated in the regular season, including an impressive win over the No. 9 ranked University of Notre Dame. They beat Houston in the AAC championship to advance to the CFP. Head coach Luke Fickell expressed his admiration for Alabama in a press conference on Dec. 5, 2021.

Luke Fickell and Nick Saban participate in a joint press conference before the Cotton Bowl Classic. Fickell praised Alabama saying, “You know, they’re a great football team, they’ve got great talent across the board… So, you know, we know it’s going to be an incredible challenge for us.” (Photo Taken From Alabama Football YouTube channel)

“Obviously [it’s] a great program playing on all three phases of the game and there’s no weaknesses,” Fickell said.

For Cincinnati to defeat Alabama, they’ll need to throttle the Tide’s incredible offense. The Bearcats have the seventh-ranked defense in college football, making that task slightly easier.

For Alabama, the path to victory is much easier. Allow quarterback Bryce Young to throw the ball as much as possible, and rely on your eighth-ranked defense to bully the Bearcats into submission.

No. 2 Michigan vs No. 3 Georgia

Until the 2021 season, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh had not been able to defeat rival Ohio State University or win the Big Ten championship. The Wolverines went 11-1 in the regular season, including a dominant 42-27 win over No. 2 ranked Ohio State. 

The strength of Michigan is undoubtedly their running game, Michigan is ranked ninth in rushing yards per game and sixth in total rushing yards. Running back Hassan Haskins is ranked ninth in yards among running backs with 1,288. He has also rushed for an astonishing 20 touchdowns in 2021. 

Harbaugh was emphatic in his praise of Haskins following the game against Ohio State.

Jim Harbaugh speaks to the media following Michigan’s win over Ohio State. Michigan throttled the Ohio State offense during a 42-27 win. (Photo Taken From Brad Galli YouTube channel)

“[Ohio State] might have thought they saw a ghost, but they didn’t,” Harbaugh said. “It was No. 25, Hassan Haskins. He was running with great determination, great purpose, great ability.”

Georgia’s 2021 regular season was extraordinary, the Bulldogs had the second-ranked defense and allowed an average of just 9.5 points per game. Georgia also beat four top-25 ranked teams during the regular season. 

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart formerly served as Alabama’s defensive coordinator under Nick Saban before he accepted the head coaching job with the Bulldogs. 

In 2017, Smart led Georgia to the CFP National Championship where he faced Alabama and his former boss. Georgia was defeated 26-23 and has not made it to the CFP since.

For Michigan to defeat Georgia, they need to rely on the strength of their running game. Georgia looked good against the run all season until their defeat against Alabama in the SEC championship. Michigan needs to exploit the weaknesses that Alabama exposed when playing Georgia if they hope to win.

For Georgia to defeat Michigan they need to force the Wolverines to pass. Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara has thrown for only 15 touchdowns and 2,470 yards on the season, if Georgia can limit the Michigan run game, McNamara will not be able to produce the points needed to defeat the Bulldogs.