The Cincinnati Bearcats have one of the best résumés of any Group of 5 school in BCS/College Football Playoff history, and they still finished just No. 8 in this season’s final rankings. In the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl against Georgia (noon ET on Jan. 1 on ESPN and the ESPN App), they’ll be looking to further prove their worth against a Power 5 team that will be a 2021 title favorite.
Both Georgia and Cincinnati have been known for their defensive prowess this season (Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in SP+). However, both teams come into this game looking more complete than they have at any point in the season. Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder has been red-hot since a Oct. 24 blowout victory over SMU as one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation.
Georgia finally has its quarterback in JT Daniels. In three starts, he has thrown for 839 yards, nine touchdowns and just one interception. He has left Georgia fans wondering what this season could have been if he had been healthy the entire year, but also excited for what’s to come, starting with the Peach Bowl.
This one might be the most interesting of all the New Year’s Six bowl games. Georgia could have some opt-outs, but this will be a game worth the time regardless.
Key player for Cincinnati: Ridder. You could argue that the quarterback is always a key player for any team, but Ridder’s impact is going to be greater in this game than any other Cincinnati has played this season. Georgia’s defense likely will be the best Ridder has seen up to this point in his college career. When Ridder is on, Cincinnati is tough to beat (impossible, if you look at just this season). But if he’s not on against Georgia, especially the way the Bulldogs’ offense has performed the past five weeks, things may not go well for the Bearcats.
Key player for Georgia: LB Adam Anderson. If there’s one player whom Ridder could become familiar with during the game, it’s Anderson. The junior from Rome, Georgia, is one of the Bulldogs’ better players at getting to the quarterback. With second-team All-SEC linebacker Azeez Ojulari out, Anderson will be getting a lot more snaps in one of Georgia’s biggest challenges of the year.
Matchup to watch: Georgia’s offense vs. Cincinnati’s defense, though the idea here is not quite as broad as that seems. Georgia’s offense was always the missing piece for it this season, even as the defense proved to be one of the more dominant units in college football. But since Daniels has taken over at quarterback, the Bulldogs appear to finally have rhythm and consistency, and will face their first real test since Daniels took over. If Todd Monken’s offense is able to move the ball against the Bearcats, Georgia is going to be one of the preseason favorites moving into 2021.
X factor: We don’t know who will be opting out for Georgia yet, which could end up being a factor if it means the Bulldogs miss out on some consistency at position groups. At the very least, we know their pass rush could be affected with the loss of Ojulari. On the flip side, there’s talent behind the talent in Athens, and this will be a real contest and challenge for Cincinnati no matter how that shapes out. The thing to look out for here is just how many.
Motivation factor: The disrespect felt by Cincinnati. This is going to be a gigantic narrative by the time this game kicks off, but there’s legitimacy to this. Cincinnati had arguably the best case of any Group of 5 school since the College Football Playoff started to get in the dance and yet it finished just No. 8 in the final rankings. The Bearcats have an opportunity in front of them against an elite Power 5 team in Georgia to show they were one of the four best teams in the country this season.