The 2021 Cotton Bowl semifinal game pits the king of college football against the sport’s biggest Cinderella — maybe ever.
Top-ranked Alabama is looking to become the repeat champion since the Crimson Tide won back-to-back in 2011 and ’12. Nick Saban and Co. have had two opportunities to replicate that feat since then, but have failed in both attempts: Alabama beat Clemson 45-40 in the 2016 national championship game before losing a rematch vs. the Tigers, 35-31, in the 2017 CFP title game.
The Crimson Tide ascended to the top of college football the following season by beating Georgia in an all-SEC championship game, 26-23, but once again lost to Clemson in the ensuing title game. Alabama won the 2020 national championship after beating Ohio State 52-24; will the third time be the charm for Saban and Co.?
No. 4 Cincinnati will do its best to make sure it isn’t. The Bearcats became the Group of 5 team in the eight-year history of the playoff to earn a bid and — whether they like it or not — carry the banner for every non-independent, non-Power 5 team. That said, Cincinnati absolutely deserves its spot on this stage, going a combined 44-6 over the last three seasons, an impressive stretch that includes three double-digit win campaigns and two berths in New Year’s Day 6 bowls.
Here’s everything you need to know about this year’s Cotton Bowl semifinal game, including time, location, betting odds, past winners and more.
What time does Alabama vs. Cincinnati start?
Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET on Friday, Dec. 31. It is the first of the two playoff games, with the Orange Bowl between No. 2 Michigan and No. 3 Georgia kicking off at 7:30 p.m. ET.
What channel is Alabama vs. Cincinnati on?
The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN. Sean McDonough (play-by-play) and Todd Blackledge (color) will call the game from the booth while Molly McGrath and Laura Rutledge will report from the sidelines.
ESPN is also rolling out its Megacast for the College Football Playoff, once again providing alternate broadcasts across its family of networks. Here’s the full rundown.
Live stream for College Football Playoff semifinals
Both College Football Playoff semifinals will broadcast on ESPN and are available to stream live on all of the network’s digital platforms (ESPN.com, ESPN App, etc.).
Cord-cutters have several live streaming options available to watch. Below is the list.
Who plays in the Cotton Bowl semifinal?
No. 1 Alabama will play No. 4 Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl, a direct result of the top-ranked Tide’s preference to play in Arlington over the Orange Bowl in Miami Gardens, Fla. The Crimson Tide earned their top overall seed as result of going 12-1 in the regular season and beating the previous No. 1 team, Georgia, in the SEC championship game. The Bearcats become the first Group of 5 team to earn a playoff berth, earning their way in on the strength of an AAC championship and undefeated record, the last one remaining in Division I football.
Where is the Cotton Bowl semifinal being played?
The Cotton Bowl has taken place at AT&T Stadium, home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, since 2010. It had previously taken place in its namesake from 1937 through 2009. This is the second time this calendar year that AT&T Stadium has hosted a playoff semifinal game, after the Rose Bowl Game was forced to move locations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic last season.
CFP ODDS: Why Alabama can win | Why Cincinnati can win
Alabama vs. Cincinnati betting odds
Alabama (-14) is favored to win the 2021 Cotton Bowl over Cincinnati, the largest spread of bowl season, per FanDuel. The over/under is set at 57.5 points.
Cotton Bowl history
The Cotton Bowl traditionally matched up champions from the now-defunct Southwest Conference against the runner-up from the SEC and/or a major independent team from 1941-95. With the SWC’s dissolution in 1996, the Cotton Bowl switched its tie-in to include the runner-up of the Big 12 vs. an SEC team from 1999-2014.
With the advent of the College Football Playoff in 2014, the Cotton Bowl alternates as a playoff semifinal site every third year and a New Year’s Day 6 bowl in the seasons in between. In the years the Cotton Bowl is not a semifinal game, it hosts either:
Below are the results of the Cotton Bowl dating back to 1999, the first year of its previous conference tie-in:
Rankings from 2015 onward reflect CFP top 25. Rankings from 2000-14 reflect AP Top 25.
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