Good afternoon New York Giants fans!
The College Football Playoffs are finally here and we have two games that promise to be truly excellent for the first round. The festivities will start with fourth ranked Cincinnati taking on first ranked Alabama in the Cotton Bowl Classic, followed by third ranked Georgia playing second ranked Michigan in the Orange Bowl.
Not only do these games look to be great showdowns from a pure football perspective, but they will be absolutely teeming with future NFL players — many of them prospective first round talents.
So without further ado, lets get to the games!
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic
(4) Cincinnati vs. (1) Alabama
ESPN - 3:30pm
The first match-up of the College Football Playoffs kicks off at 3:30 in AT&T Stadium in Arlington Texas.
This game features one of the great constants of modern college football — Alabama as the No. 1 seed — and one of the great surprises of this year’s wild college football season — the Cincinnati Bearcats.
I won’t spend too long talking about Alabama. They’re 13.5 point favorites in the game and a win by Cincinnati would, frankly, be a stunning upset. Alabama is, as usual, absolutely packed with NFL talent at just about every position. And as such, my advice for watching them play from a scouting perspective is unchanged: Just enjoy the game and take note of which players really distinguish themselves. There’s just too many great players on this team to dive in and discuss them all individually.
The one big disappointment here is that WR John Metchie is out of the game after suffering a torn ACL in the SEC Championship game.
QB Desmond Ridder is obviously the biggest name on the Cincinnati side of things. Ridder has been the driving force behind the Bearcats’ rise through the rankings and cracking the Playoffs. Ridder has the chance to be one of the first quarterbacks off the board in April, as he boasts impressive arm talent and athleticism to go with good size. He’s a similar prospect to former Missouri quarterback Drew Lock, and will garner similar support thanks to his physical tools, as well as similar criticism based on his history of inconsistency.
But while Ridder is the biggest name for Cincinnati, he certainly isn’t the only name.
Ridder is joined on the offensive side of the ball by WR Alec Pierce, TE Josh Whyle, and RB Jerome Ford.
Pierce has the potential to rise over the course of the draft process, and that could start with a good game against the Alabama defense. He has a solid, well-rounded skillset that could translate well to an outside receiver role, or to being a “big slot” for offenses that use the position.
Whyle is a long, lean tight end who is listed at 6-foot-6, 235 pounds. He’s more of a “hybrid” tight end right now and is one of Ridder’s best weapons in the passing game. Whyle has plenty of room to grow early in his pro career and could be a “complete” tight end by his second or third year. He should probably be considered a receiving weapon first, but could be an option as a blocker with a bit more size and work on his technique.
Jerome Ford might have the most intriguing story in this game. He transferred from Alabama to Cincinnati for the 2020 season and has emerged as a bell cow runner for the Bearcats. He has great size at 5-foot-11, 220 pounds and runs with good vision, contact balance, and power — as well as enough speed to create chunk plays when he gets running room.
EDGE Myjai Sanders is going to be a player to watch on the Cincinnati defense. He is long, fluid, flexible, and explosive as a pass rusher, while also already having solid technique. Sanders is good enough to be a “First Round” talent, but could slip to the second round just based on a loaded class of defenders.
Speaking of first round caliber defenders who could slide due to the sheer number of really good defensive prospects, cornerback Ahmad Gardner stands out. Gardner is a prototypical cover corner with quick feet, fluid hips, great length, and the athleticism to stay with just about any receiver down the field. Like Sanders, he would probably be a sure-fire first rounder in another draft.
Like I said before, Alabama is probably going to win this one, but there’s more than enough talent on the field to make this a really fun game.
Capital One Orange Bowl
(3) Georgia vs. (2) Michigan
ESPN - 7:30 pm
This has the potential to be the best game of the year.
As with the Cotton Bowl, I’m not going to belabor the SEC team too much. Georgia is just as stacked as Alabama is, and boasts future NFL players at just about every position. As with Alabama, just enjoy the game and take note of which players stand out.
In a bit of drama on the Georgia side of things, head coach Kirby Smart named Stetson Bennett the starting QB for the Orange Bowl. There were some calls for JT Daniels to be named the starter after Bennett struggled against Alabama in the SEC Championship. The fact that Daniels was in the COVID-19 protocol and only recently rejoined the team could well have played into Smart’s decision. Whether there’s a quarterback change could be something to watch for during the game.
The obvious starting point for talking about the Wolverines is the man who will be making the life of whoever is under center for Georgia miserable: Aidan Hutchinson. Hutchinson has emerged as one of the very best football players in the country — a rare defensive Heisman candidate and a likely Top 2 selection in the 2022 NFL Draft. He is big, long, remarkably athletic for his size, and technically sound. Hutchinson added an entirely new dimension to his game when he showed that he could be (very) successful as a stand-up rusher in Michigan’s new Ravens-esque 2-4 front.
Bookending Hutchinson is David Ojabo, who has rocketed up draft boards as well. Ojabo isn’t as refined as Hutchinson, but might be more athletic. He is a true modern “EDGE” at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds with the ability to rush from a variety of alignments — as well as run plays down from behind thanks to his track background.
Rounding out the triumvirate of defenders who helped power Michigan into the Playoffs is junior safety Daxton Hill. As of this writing, there is some mystery as to whether Hill will even play. He has been “working through something” per head coach John Harbaugh, but recently joined the team in Miami. Hill is officially listed as questionable for the game, and his absence would be serious blow to the Michigan defense. Hill is an athletic, rangy, and versatile safety who the Wolverines love to use as a defensive weapon. He lines up all over the field for them and serves as one of those players offenses simply must identify and track. Hill could be a fantastic value in the second round of April’s draft — if he isn’t scooped up in the first round.