I’ll admit it: I was wrong about Cincinnati

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This is the last time I’ll write about Cincinnati this season.

Up to this point, I’ve written multiple columns about the Bearcats’ historic season.

I’ve expressed simultaneous sympathy — for my passionate Fighting Irish-fan dad — and elation after the Bearcats’ monumental win over Notre Dame in October.

I’ve made the case for Cincinnati to become the first Group of Five team to ever reach the College Football Playoff — and celebrated when it actually, shockingly, happened, mentioning that I thought the Bearcats could give Alabama a run for its money in the CFP.

And now, for the third time in a few short months, I’m putting words on this Cincy-themed page to admit something: I was wrong.

The Bearcats — as was evident in their crushing 27-6 loss to the Crimson Tide in the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Eve — didn’t have a shot against Alabama.

But not because they’re inferior as a Group of Five program, but because they simply didn’t have it that night.

They didn’t have the offense. Bearcats’ senior quarterback Desmond Ridder, the team’s heart-and-soul during its Cinderella run, was 17-of-32 for 144 yards and no touchdowns (or interceptions). They had just 218 total yards compared to Alabama’s 482, but most importantly, they didn’t score a single touchdown on the night, settling for just two lousy field goals.

They didn’t have the “it” factor they’ve had all season. On numerous occasions, the Bearcats’ offense sputtered out when it had a chance to capitalize, seize control of the moment and put Alabama on its heels … yet, it never did.

They just didn’t have it. Plain and simple.

And that’s not to say the team played horribly or weren’t worthy of sharing the field with Alabama.

The Bearcats’ defense — which kept Heisman-winning quarterback Bryce Young at bay with just 188 yards (17-of-28) and three touchdowns, along with an interception — held the Crimson Tide to its third-lowest point total in a game all season (27) and allowed far fewer points than Georgia did in the SEC Championship Game against the Tide (41).

But despite their ability to defend the pass, the Crimson Tide gashed the Bearcats on the ground for 301 yards, including 204 from redshirt senior running back Brian Robinson Jr. alone.

There were plenty of things Cincinnati did well.

Alabama just did them better.

And when it was all said and done, the Bearcats found out the hard way what Power Five teams learned a long time ago: Nick Saban always wins.

Following the game, social media was ablaze with one of the laziest takes I’ve heard in years.

Many took the Bearcats’ three-score loss to the Crimson Tide as an opportunity to prop up the Power Five, effectively using it as an example of why teams outside of the Power Five should never have a shot at the Playoff.

Yet, those same folks fail to recognize the fact that Alabama’s won all seven of its CFP semifinal victories — all of which were Power Five programs aside from Cincinnati this season — by at least two scores.

And that doesn’t even include the 52-24 beatdown the Crimson Tide handed the Ohio State Buckeyes in last season’s national title game.

Group of Five schools making the Playoff isn’t the problem here.

Alabama is.

Saban’s just too dang good. And that’s OK.

But there’s no reason to fault Cincinnati — or Group of Five teams as a whole — for losing to Alabama on the big stage. It happens to just about everybody.

If you’re going to delegitimize the Bearcats’ program because of one loss, then you’ve got to do the same for Ohio State (52-24 title game loss in 2020-21), Notre Dame (31-14 semifinal loss in 2020-21), Oklahoma (45-34 semifinal loss in 2018-19), Clemson (24-6 semifinal loss in 2017-18), Washington (24-7 semifinal loss in 2016-17) and Michigan State (38-0 semifinal loss in 2015-16) for all suffering the same fate.

It stinks that the Bearcats’ season ended the way it did, with no real fight, no unforgettable win over Bama, no happy ending to their storybook campaign.

But a 13-1 season with plenty of roller-coaster moments, history-shattering storylines and a shot to go toe-to-toe against the best football program of my generation in the College Football Playoff is undoubtedly a success.

And when you’re going up against Alabama in the semifinals, sometimes that’s the best you can hope for.

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.

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