Who plays in the Cotton Bowl this year? Teams, date, schedule for 2021 CFP semifinal game

It’s been three years since the Cotton Bowl served as a College Football Playoff semifinal game. It’s back in the rotation this year, and if history repeats itself, that could mean one of several things.

The game could be a blowout, with the last two scores from Cotton Bowl semifinal games being 30-3 and 38-0, respectively. Similarly, the game could feature gaudy offensive numbers, with the last three winners scoring 55, 53 and 30 points.

This year’s Cotton Bowl pits No. 1 Alabama against No. 4 Cincinnati as the Bearcats made history and became the first Group of 5 school to make the playoff, while Alabama upset No. 1 Georgia in the SEC title game. Alabama has now made the college football playoff in all but one installation and has a median margin of victory of exactly 17 points in semifinal games. The Tide enter the game as 14-point favorites according to FanDuel.

Cincinnati meanwhile was this year’s only team to finish the regular season undefeated, going 13-0 heading into the playoff as coach Luke Fickell has led the team to a 48-14 record in five seasons at the helm, including a berth in a New Years’ Six bowl last year against Georgia, losing 24-21 in the Peach Bowl.

BENDER: Cincinnati’s, Michigan’s inclusion prove no need for CFP expansion, at least for now

So for anyone concerned about a Group of 5 school’s ability to hang with a blue blood, there’s at least some proof of concept that it’s not that far-fetched.

The Bearcats will look to continue their historic season as they gear up to move to the Big 12 in 2023, while Alabama looks to prove that it is as always, top dog in the SEC and the country.

Here, you’ll find the info you need to know about watching the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 31, 2021, along with what to expect from the teams chosen to play in the game.

MORE: Why Alabama can win the 2022 College Football Playoff

When is the Cotton Bowl 2021?

The 2021 Cotton Bowl marks the 84th playing of the game since its inception in 1934. The game has always been played in the Dallas metropolitan area, and it’s been in Arlington at AT&T Stadium since 2011. 

Who plays in the Cotton Bowl 2021?

The 2021 Cotton Bowl will feature the SEC champion, No. 1 Alabama, against the AAC champion, No. 4 Cincinnati.

What to know about Alabama vs. Cincinnati

Metchie may not play

Alabama’s been known for its dominant wide receiver play over the years, and 2021 has been no different with the two-headed attack of Jameson Williams and John Metchie.

Metchie leads the team in catches with 96 and is second in receiving yards with 1,142, but he suffered a non-contact injury in the SEC title game. Following the game, coach Nick Saban couldn’t confirm the exact injury, only saying it was “a pretty serious” knee injury and that he’s expected to be unavailable for both games of the playoff should Alabama win.

That means Cincinnati’s job could be a bit easier, only having to guard Jameson Williams as opposed to Williams and Metchie.

“Tide”-al wave of offense

Even if Metchie is unable to play, Alabama has still put up some of the most prolific offensive numbers in the nation. The Crimson Tide rank sixth in total offense (495.5 yards per game), second on third down conversion percentage (53.6 percent) and fourth in scoring offense (42.5 points per game).  

The Tide can also win in a multitude of ways, not just needing to attack through the air. Running back Brian Robinson is an efficient runner, averaging 4.8 yards per carry on 222 carries and totaled 1,064 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground as well as just under 300 receiving yards.

Bearcats’ defense key

For as dynamic as Alabama’s offense is, Cincinnati’s been just as good at keeping opponents off the scoreboard.

The Bearcats rank fourth in scoring defense (16.08 opponent points per game), seventh in total defense (305.8 yards per game) and one of the biggest stats is the Bearcats sitting at plus-11 in turnover margin thanks to disciplined play from QB Desmond Ridder and 18 interceptions on defense.

Perhaps most importantly, however, is Cincinnati’s red zone defense. The Bearcats boast one of the nation’s top units in that category, sitting in third, allowing opponents to score on 66.7 percent of red zone trips. So while Alabama can rattle off big plays, if the field is shrunk down, Cincinnati may be able to capitalize and limit the damage.

Cotton Bowl odds

Alabama opens as a 14-point favorite over Cincinnati, according to FanDuel. The over/under is set at 57.5 points.

Where is Cotton Bowl being played in 2021?

The Cotton Bowl will kick off from AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

New Year’s 6 Bowl schedule 2021

All of this year’s New Year’s 6 Bowl games are televised on ESPN.

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