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The College Football Playoff national semifinal looked like a Power Five conference team playing a non-Power Five conference team Friday in the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas.
Or a major brand power against a non-conference, rent-a-win outfit.
No. 1 Alabama (13-1) reached its sixth national championship game in seven years by annihilating first-time CFP entry Cincinnati, 27-6, at AT&T Stadium.
The Tide should have worn throwback jerseys – if they have ever worn anything different – as they went old school against Cincinnati’s top-ranked pass defense. Instead of quarterback Bryce Young passing 30 or 40 times, tailback Brian Robinson Jr. carried 26 times for an Alabama bowl record and career-high 204 yards.
“We’re just warriors with everything we do,” Robinson said after being named the game’s offensive most valuable player. “That’s why we’re going to win the natty and repeat.”
Defending national champion Alabama from the Southeastern Conference advances to the CFP national championship game on Jan. 10 in Indianapolis (8 p.m. Eastern, ESPN) at Lucas Oil Stadium against No. 3 Georgia (13-1), which beat 2 Michigan, 34-11, on Saturday night in the other semifinal at the Orange Bowl in Miami.
The Tide will be playing for its seventh national championship under coach Nick Saban and 19th overall. Saban won his six titles at Alabama so far in the 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2017 and 2020 seasons, equaling former coach Bear Bryant, who won six from 1961-1979. Saban has won an NCAA record seven national titles overall in his career as he won his first one at LSU in the 2003 season.
The Tide lost national championship games to Clemson in the ’16 and ’18 seasons.
“This is what it’s all about,” Saban said. “I’m really proud of our guys. We have one more opportunity to see what we can do, and we’ll play a really good team no matter who wins.’
No. 4 Cincinnati (13-1) from the American Athletic Conference was the first non-Power Five conference school to reach the CFP that began in 2014.
After Cincinnati cut Alabama’s lead to 17-6 at the 9:57 mark of the third quarter on a 37-yard field goal by Cole Smith, the Tide took a 24-6 lead early in the fourth quarter on a nine-yard touchdown pass from Young to tight end Cameron Latu. Young finished 17-of-28 passing for 181 yards with three touchdowns.
Alabama extended its lead to 27-6 with 6:20 to play on a 43-yard field goal by Will Reichard.
Alabama dominated the first half with 302 yards to 76 and took a 17-3 lead into the locker room as Robinson already had 134 yards on 17 carries. The Tide finished with 482 total yards to 218 by Cincinnati and outrushed the Bearcats 301 yards to 74. Alabama had 27 first downs to 13.
Young completed 12 of 20 passes for 130 yards in the first half with a 44-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Ja’Corey Brooks for the 14-point advantage with 1:36 to go in the second quarter.
Alabama started fast and took a 7-0 lead with 9:51 to go in the first quarter on an eight-yard touchdown pass from Young to wide receiver Slade Bolden, finishing a 75-yard drive in 11 plays. And that was all the points the Tide needed behind its suffocating defense.
The Bearcats cut the Tide’s lead to 7-3 with 4:52 left in the first quarter on a 33-yard field goal by Smith after a 60-yard drive in 13 plays. That was the first field goal by Smith since October as Cincinnati had been more accustomed to scoring touchdowns.
Alabama took a 10-3 lead early in the second quarter on a 26-yard field goal by Reichard.
“It’s like a dream come true,” Robinson, a senior from Tuscaloosa who grew up near the Alabama campus. “I’ll do anything for this ‘A’ on my chest.”