Cincy unfazed by underdog tag: ‘We belong here’

  • College football reporter
  • Joined ESPN.com in 2007
  • Graduate of the University of Tennessee

Cincinnati’s players and coaches downplayed Monday any role the underdog label may play for the Bearcats against heavily favored Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinal game at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic.

The Crimson Tide are a 13 1/2-point favorite against the Bearcats, who went 13-0 this season and have won 23 of their last 24 games dating to the end of the 2019 season. Their only loss during that span was a 24-21 setback to Georgia in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl to cap the 2020 season on a 53-yard field goal with three seconds remaining.

Offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock said he hasn’t sensed that the Bearcats are being fueled by any added motivation.

“Each kid is going to have kind of his own little motivation thing,” Denbrock said. “I think as a football team, we feel like we’ve earned our way here. We feel like and know we belong here, so for there to be any outside extra motivation that’s needed to get these guys ready to roll, there’s enough of a challenge that’s going to be standing across the field from us. That deserves our full attention and has our full attention.

“I think the thing some people forget about this group of seniors and this football team, in particular, is they did everything that people asked them to do to get to this point. They’ve been successful 13 straight times they’ve taken the field, and the opportunity that’s in front of us to play next, we’re well aware of how difficult it’s going to be, how much of a fight and struggle it’s going to be, but one our players are going to be prepared for.”

Senior quarterback Desmond Ridder, the nation’s winningest quarterback with a career record of 44-5, added: “We’re excited to get down here and play Alabama and show not only ourselves, but everyone in the country what we can do against a top team.”

Very few of the semifinal games in the CFP era have been close. In fact, 11 of the 14 semifinal games have been decided by double digits. Cincinnati is the first Group of 5 team to make the playoff.

“Not worried about the kind of focus being on us,” junior offensive lineman Dylan O’Quinn said. “We’ve heard a lot about this David versus Goliath talk, but the fact of the matter is everybody puts their pants on the same way. Everybody plays football, so we just want to go out and be us.”

Junior running back Jerome Ford, who began his career at Alabama before transferring to Cincinnati, said the Bearcats don’t need to do anything “extra” just because they’re a decided underdog.

“Just pretty much be us, and I feel like being us will be enough to prove that we belong here and we should be here,” Ford said.

Cincinnati won its last four games by a combined total of 88 points after a three-game stretch against Navy, Tulane and Tulsa in which the Bearcats didn’t play their best football.

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