The Cotton Bowl between the Alabama Crimson Tide and Cincinnati Bearcats airs today on ESPN at 3:30 p.m. ET. Cincinnati is the first non-Power Five school to earn a spot in the College Football Playoffs. The Bearcats have a monster defense featuring at least eight players who could go in the 2022 NFL Draft, but we shouldn’t sleep on their offense either.
Let’s examine the top prospects in charge of putting up points in today’s playoff showdown.
Cincinnati Bearcats Offense
Desmond Ridder, QB (6'4", 215 lbs.)- Ridder is a versatile true senior finishing off his most productive collegiate season. The Kentucky native completed 65.9% of his passes for 3,190 yards, 30 touchdowns, and eight interceptions this season. He’s the second Bearcat to pass for over 10,000 yards in his career.
Ridder possesses NFL size, and he’s a threat on the ground. The former three-star recruit has 2,185 rushing yards and 28 rushing touchdowns during his career. However, he was noticeably less impactful as a runner this year than in previous campaigns.
Ridder cut down on his turnover-worthy plays this year, but his accuracy and ball placement remain significant concerns that could show up against Alabama.
Alec Pierce, WR (6'3", 213 lbs.)- Pierce isn’t a true burner, but he has enough speed to threaten defenses vertically. He’s stared as the top receiving threat at Cincinnati this year, amassing 50 receptions on 78 targets for 867 yards and eight touchdowns. Pierce primarily lined up out wide, spending under 15% of his time in the slot.
Quarterbacks averaged a depth of target over 17 yards when targeting Pierce in 2019 and 2021, proving his capabilities as a deep threat. The former three-star recruit is tremendous in contested catch situations, hauling in over 45% of his 53 contested catch opportunities over the past four years. He’s a handful for most defensive backs.
Josh Whyle, TE (6'6", 245 lbs.)- Whyle is a fourth-year junior with two seasons of full-time starting experience. He’s never posted eye-popping numbers, but the Ohio native is an excellent security blanket for Ridder. Whyle had 25 receptions for 320 yards and six touchdowns this season, including six games with at least 30 receiving yards.
Whyle struggled with drops early this season as he worked through some injuries, but he’s usually a sure-handed option. He only has three drops over the past two years, during which he’s caught 53 of his 73 targets.
Jerome Ford, RB (5'11", 220 lbs.)- Ford is a junior finishing his fourth season in college football. The powerful Florida native spent his first two years at Alabama before transferring to Cincinnati in 2020. He played second-fiddle to future Miami Dolphins selection Gerrid Doaks before taking over the lead role this season.
Ford amassed 1,242 yards and 19 touchdowns on 200 carries in his 12 appearances, including a two-touchdown, 187-yard performance against Houston in the AAC Championship Game. Ford used his large frame tally over 600 yards after contact this season, putting him in roughly the same area as Travis Dye, Isaiah Spiller, and Rachaad White.
Despite his size, Ford has the second gear to explode through holes for long touchdowns. Ford’s 31 runs of ten or more yards this season tied him with other 2022 draft prospects like Zach Charbonnet, Sincere McCormick, and Spiller.