Sorry, Cincinnati Bearcats, but you did not want Alabama football | Toppmeyer

Blake Toppmeyer

ARLINGTON, Texas – Cincinnati can blame LSU for this. Or Auburn.

Both teams had opportunities in November to hand Alabama a loss that could have knocked the defending national champion out of the College Football Playoff picture. They let the Crimson Tide wriggle off the hook.

Or blame Georgia. The Bulldogs played like the nation’s best team for three months, but when they had the chance to plant a knockout punch on Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, the Crimson Tide trampled them.

That left plucky underdog Cincinnati to face the ultimate blueblood in the playoff semifinals.

Sorry, Bearcats, but you did not want Bama.

Alabama resembles a prize fighter that gained strength and fury after absorbing some punches.

The top-ranked Crimson Tide mauled No. 4 Cincinnati 27-6 on Friday in the Cotton Bowl to advance to the national championship and extinguish the Bearcats’ fairytale season.

Cinderella sure was cute but proved uncapable of stopping this bear that awoke hungry after a short slumber.

“We just proved we were the most physical team," Alabama running back Brian Robinson Jr. said.

Don’t take this result to mean Cincinnati (13-1) didn’t deserve a playoff spot. The Bearcats earned this opportunity by entering the playoff as the nation’s only undefeated team. They possessed the season's best road victory by defeating Notre Dame in October.

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Cincinnati represented itself better than some past playoff teams, like 2015 Michigan State or 2018 Notre Dame. This wasn’t an embarrassment. Rather, an Alabama team loaded with five-star talent and armed with the sport’s greatest coach ever ground its opponent into submission.

Alabama (13-1) looked like it might make a blowout of this when it cruised 75 yards for a touchdown on its opening drive, not needing to throw a pass until the drive’s final play.

Cincinnati counterpunched on its opening drive that penetrated Alabama’s 10-yard line before it stalled. The Bearcats nearly scored a touchdown, but Desmond Ridder sailed a pass a bit high, and it whistled through Alec Pierce’s hands. The Bearcats settled for a field goal, after which a television camera captured a shirtless Cincinnati fan standing stupefied with a blank stare.

I’m not sure what that young man was thinking, but I envisioned his thought bubble reading this: My god, what have we done?

Cincinnati’s next four drives before halftime produced 16 yards.

The stats reflected a more lopsided affair than the scoreboard. Alabama outgained Cincinnati 482-218 and enjoyed a time-of-possession advantage of more than seven minutes.

Cincinnati boasts star cornerbacks and an effective pass rush, so Alabama countered with a renaissance ground attack.

Robinson’s legs rarely stopped churning as he moved pile after pile en route to a career-high 204 yards. Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Bryce Young became largely a sideshow, and Alabama won with throwback bully-ball.

Its defensive front suffocated the Bearcats.

Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell called a timeout with two seconds remaining before halftime in a hope of giving Ridder a heave into the end zone. Instead, the half ended with Will Anderson Jr. sacking Ridder and Crimson Tide players waiving towels as they entered the locker room, a snapshot that epitomized the afternoon.

The Bearcats entered the Cotton Bowl ranked fourth nationally for fewest tackles for loss allowed, but Alabama logged six sacks and eight TFLs.

This wasn’t Tulsa or Navy the Bearcats were facing in an American Athletic Conference tussle.

Fans of teams in conferences outside the SEC reveled in the nation's most powerful conference limping to a 1-5 start to the bowl season. But Alabama is the SEC's top dog, and you don't want that smoke.

After Alabama's fourth-quarter touchdown produced a three-score lead, fans chanted "S-E-C! S-E-C!" and one Tide supporter held a sign reading "You got Bammered." 

Alabama didn’t deliver its finest showing, either.

Young threw an interception for just the fifth time this season, and he didn’t replicate the Heisman-clinching performance he supplied against Georgia. Alabama muffed a punt return that it was fortunate to recover. And the Tide’s passing game seemed to miss veteran receiver John Metchie III, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the SEC Championship.

Credit the Bearcats for keeping the score competitive into the fourth quarter.

Cinderella Cincinnati deserved this invite, but Alabama still rules the playoff party.

Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.