Meet the new boss, same as the … ah, the heck with it. Alabama enters the latest College Football Playoff as the No. 1 seed the fifth time. When the 2021 Cotton Bowl kicks off Friday afternoon, it will be on the field for a CFP semifinal for the seventh time in the event's eight-year existence. Look and sound familiar? It should.
The Crimson Tide, in the 2021 SEC Championship Game, vanquished the one, true team that had separated itself from the rest of the country. Remember previously No. 1 Georgia? Try harder. Those Bulldogs seem so long ago. The team that led the country in point differential, the team with the best defense, the team that was going to allow Kirby Smart to finally break through against Nick Saban ... it was dismantled.
Oh, there could be another rematch in the CFP National Championship on Jan. 10, 2022, if the favorites win. Alabama is a 13.5-point favorite over No. 4 Cincinnati, while No. 3 Georgia holds a 7.5-point edge over No. 2 Michigan, according to Caesars Sportsbook. The favorites have played in a combined 13 CFP games with no such experience for either of the underdogs.
It's worth celebrating Year 8 of the playoff. The overwrought machinations of its CFP Selection Committee got the field right. This playoff welcomes in the first Group of Five team (Cincinnati) to play for an FBS national title. Michigan and its record 976 wins is also a "newbie", if you want to call it that. Coach Jim Harbaugh finally climbed the mountain in the flatlands of central Indiana when he won the Big Ten championship earlier this month. For the first time since Year 2 of the CFP in 2015, two new teams are in the bracket.
Now the question: Will Harbaugh and Wolverines get back to Lucas Oil Stadium in 36 days for the national title game? Will the Bearcats wreck the bracket and change minds in the same season they announced a change of conference?
As far as what the No. 1 seed means for Alabama ... not much until lately. LSU became the first top seed to win it all in 2019. Bama did the same last year, entering as not only the defending champions but the defending top seed.
Entering Friday's semifinals, Georgia has both the most pressure and most questions surrounding it. That forever defense was shredded by Alabama. Michigan is playing with (big) house money already having surpassed expectations by far. On some level, Cincinnati is just happy to be here. On every level, Alabama is the favorite. Again.
The bracket features three of the top five scoring defenses (Georgia, Michigan, Cincinnati) three of the top eight scoring offenses (Alabama, Georgia, Cincinnati) and three of the top 10 passers (Georgia's Stetson Bennett IV, Alabama's Bryce Young, Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder). Among that group is the Heisman Trophy winner (Young).
In the end, Bama flexed late in the season and the game winced at the Tide's almighty power. After losing the guts of a generationally talented team in 2020, Saban turned 70 and turned heads again. Young emerged from a jumbled Heisman race with Alabama becoming the sixth school to win back-to-back Heismans. It has now won a staggering four Heismans in 13 years, the second-best run next to Notre Dame winning five Stiff Arms from 1943-56.
By the numbers, the Tide are attempting to win their 15th championship of the wire service era (since 1936), their fourth of the CFP era (since 2014) and its second back-to-back in the last 10 years.
Same as the old boss.
Cotton Bowl: (1) Alabama vs. (4) Cincinnati
There's a feeling that Young and wide receiver Jameson Williams can pitch-and-catch their way to a championship. Alabama might need them to do just that as its offensive line is diminished in the midst of the program's worst rushing season since 2006. That's reason enough to assume Cincinnati is going to cover the 13.5-point spread as set by Caesars Sportsbook. Its defense is too stout, and Ridder is too dynamic. Dismiss the Bearcats at your own risk.
The Tide have edged ahead at the most important time. They have the nation's best wideout (Williams) and one of its best defenders (linebacker Will Anderson Jr.). Can't run the ball? It may not matter if Young has room to operate. In one season, he's established himself as one of Alabama's best quarterbacks ever. Every 10.7 of his passes goes for a touchdown.
Cincy is not intimidated. It came within a field goal of Georgia last season and beat Indiana and Notre Dame on the road this season. Ridder might be the more dynamic overall dual threat than Young. Running back Jerome Ford transferred from Alabama, coming to Cincinnati to play in big games.
The Bearcats' corners, Ahmad Gardner and Coby Bryant, are arguably the best pair in the game. An upset would be one of the most significant in postseason history. It won't happen, but making Alabama a two-touchdown favorite is a bit too much. This Cincinnati defense is new Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman's love letter to the Bearcats. He recruited and coached many of the players.
Orange Bowl: (2) Michigan vs. (3) Georgia
That 40-year-old itch at Georgia just got … itchier. A magic season is now stamped with more question marks than The Riddler. That's how long it's been since the Dawgs won a national title. That's where this discussion has to start. Every time Georgia gets to this point, something seems to go wrong.
The defense that choked off everything was exposed against the Tide. Bennett was made a passer which means things did not go well. Is J.T. Daniels waiting in the wings? Will he start or step in during the Orange Bowl semifinal?
Suddenly, the team of destiny in this semifinal is actually Michigan. It has the goods to stifle Bennett and an underperforming Georgia offensive line. Defensive end Aidan Hutchinson (14 sacks) just might be the best defender in the country. Teammate David Ojabo has 11 sacks himself.
Michigan just seems like a cuddly, feel-good story. There is Harbaugh Karma. The goal is to get back to Indianapolis for the title game where Harbaugh's name is on the Colts' ring of honor inside Lucas Oil Stadium. That may make him the first College Football Playoff coach who can look up and see his name etched into the stadium hosting the national title game. The Wolverines continue to find inspiration. The latest is finishing No. 2 in the final CFP Rankings.
The Wolverines have climbed hurdles bit by bit -- beating Ohio State for the first time in a decade, winning the Big Ten for the first time since 2004. Why not go after the first national championship since 1997?
The matchups are good for Michigan. It has a pass rush and secondary to go against Georgia's limited pass catchers. It would help the effort if Dawgs WR George Pickens continues to rebound from a knee injury that kept him out most of this season. Freshman Brock Bowers might be the best tight end in the country. Michigan RB Blake Corum -- still recovering from a foot issue -- has home-run ability. He's hit for runs of 55 yards (vs. Ohio State) and 67 yards (vs. Iowa) in the last two games.
Be satisfied there is some new blood in the system. Well, new blueblood. It's been 142 years since Michigan's first football team. Meanwhile, be concerned that the dominant color of this CFP is red. The two favorites boast it. If one or both don't win their semifinal, we might be looking at the best playoff ever.
Which College Football Playoff picks should you make, and will any underdogs will win outright? Visit SportsLine to see which teams will win and cover the spread -- all from a proven computer model that has returned almost $3,600 in profit over the past five-plus seasons -- and find out.
College Football Playoff National Championship
Here's how our CBS Sports college football experts believe will take the whole shebang.
2021-22 College Football Bowl gear is here
It's officially bowl season! Get bowl gear for your favorite team now, including Alabama, Michigan, Cincinnati, and Georgia. These college football bowl shirts feature a unique illustration for each game and make perfect holiday gifts. See the full collection here.
We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.