Alabama and Cincinnati are well deserving of their College Football Playoff spot, and not surprisingly their paths are very different.
Topping the list is their recruiting styles and the players they recruit. Again no surprise.
Alabama has been a juggernaut on the recruiting trail in the past decade racking up nine No. 1 recruiting classes since 2009 and only being out of the top five once. Cincinnati’s highest class rank since 2009 was 41 and a low of 70.
Alabama is much more of a national brand in college football than Cincinnati. Alabama recruits players from all over America, whereas Cincinnati draws players mostly in and around the state of Ohio.
Alabama assembled its playoff roster by recruiting and developing the best players in the country while Cincinnati is forced to recruit less-talented players. Alabama’s Bryce Young was the No. 1 quarterback in his class with multiple offers from the best schools in the country. Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder was a three-star recruit with only one offer out of high school.
Despite the different recruiting strategies, both teams are one win away from playing for the national championship. No. 1 Alabama (12-1) and No. 4 Cincinnati (13-0) will face off in the Cotton Bowl on Friday 2:30 p.m. CT, ESPN).
Here is a position-by-position look at the starters for Alabama and Cincinnati as recruits (probable Cotton Bowl starters; recruiting status according to 247Sports):
Alabama: Young was a five-star prospect out of Santa Ana, California . Young fielded offers from USC, Georgia, Auburn, Ohio State, Oklahoma, among others. Young was rated the best quarterback in the 2020 class, the best player from California and the second best player overall in his class.
Cincinnati: Desmond Ridder was a three-star prospect in the 2017 class out of Louisville, Kentucky. Ridder was recruited as an athlete and ranked 116th in that position group. Ridder’s only offer was from Cincinnati.
Alabama: Brian Robinson was a four-star recruit from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Robinson was rated the number eight running back in the 2017 class. Robinson held offers from; Ole Miss, Georgia, South Carolina, Auburn, Cincinnati, etc.
Cincinnati: Jerome Ford ranked 12th as an all-purpose running back. The four-star running back in the 2018 class from Tampa, Florida, fielded offers from; Alabama, Cincinnati, North Carolina, Tennessee, etc. Ford signed with Alabama and played two seasons for the Crimson Tide before entering the transfer portal and landing at Cincinnati.
Wide receiver 1
Alabama: Jameson Williams was the 13th best wide receiver prospect in the 2019 class. He received offers from; Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia, Florida, UCLA, Auburn, etc. The four-star recruit from St. Louis, Missouri signed with Ohio State. After two seasons with the Buckeyes, Williams entered the transfer portal and landed with the Crimson Tide.
Cincinnati: Alec Pierce was a three-star recruit from Glen Ellyn, Illinois. He was rated the 174th best wide receiver in the 2018 class and fielded offers from; Army, Wisconsin, Missouri, Navy, etc.
Wide receiver 2
Alabama: John Metchie was a four-star recruit from Hightstown, New Jersey. Metchie held offers from; Penn State, Georgia, Notre Dame, Michigan, etc., and was ranked the 40th wide receiver in the 2019 class.
Cincinnati: Tyler Scott was recruited as an athlete and ranked 67th in that position in the 2020 class. The three-star recruit from Barberton, Ohio, had offers from Indiana, Iowa State, Michigan State, Nebraska, etc.
Wide receiver 3
Alabama: Slade Bolden was a three-star recruit out of West Monroe, Louisiana. Bolden was recruited as an all-purpose running back and ranked 14th at that position in the 2018 class. Bolden held offers from LSU, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Arkansas, etc.
Cincinnati: Michael Young Jr. was a three-star recruit from Destrehan, Louisiana, fielding offers from Notre Dame, Arkansas, Oregon, Texas A&M, etc. Young was ranked 70th at his position in the 2017 class and signed with Notre Dame. After playing four seasons with the Fighting Irish, Young was a graduate transfer to Cincinnati. Young is currently a redshirt senior.
Alabama: Cameron Latu was a four-star recruit in the 2018 class from Salt Lake City Utah. He was recruited as a weakside defensive end and was the seventh best in his class. He fielded offers from Oregon, USC, Tennessee, UCLA, etc. While with the Crimson Tide, Latu moved from defense to tight end, helping fill a void at the position in 2019.
Cincinnati: Josh Whyle was the 19th best tight end in the 2018 class. The three-star recruit from Cincinnati Ohio fielded offers from; Auburn, Georgia, Tennessee, Oregon, etc.
Offensive line 1
Alabama: Evan Neal was a five-star recruit ranked the best tackle in the 2019 class and the seventh best overall player. Neal, from Bradenton, Florida, held offers from Florida State, Georgia, Miami, Oklahoma, etc.
Cincinnati: John Williams was a three-star recruit from Bolingbrook, Illinois. Williams was ranked the 132nd best offensive tackle in the 2020 class receiving offers from; Cincinnati, Kansas State, Temple and Northern Illinois.
Offensive line 2
Alabama: Javion Cohen was a four-star recruit from Phenix City, Alabama . Cohen was recruited as a tackle ranking 25th at the position in the 2020 class. Cohen was recruited by; Auburn, South Carolina, Georgia Tech, etc.
Cincinnati: Jeremy Cooper was the 63rd best guard in the 2018 class. Cooper was a three-star recruit from Mount Carmel, Illinois, holding offers from Colorado, Ohio, Yale, etc.
Left defensive end
Alabama: Justin Eboigbe was a four-star recruit from Forest Park, Georgia. Eboigbe received offers from; Florida, Miami, Arkansas, Auburn, etc. Eboigbe was ranked the fifth best strongside defensive end in the 2019 class.
Cincinnati: Myjai Sanders was a three-star recruit from Jacksonville, Florida . He was ranked the 56th weakside defensive end in the 2018 class and fielded offers from Mississippi State, Maryland, Kentucky, Colorado State, etc.
Alabama: DJ Dale was the thee 18th ranked defensive tackle in the 2018 class. The four-star recruit from Pinson, Alabama , held offers from; Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, Kentucky, etc.
Cincinnati: Curtis Brooks was ranked the 132nd strongside defensive end in the 2016 class. Brooks was a two-star recruit from Danville, Virginia, and held offers from East Carolina, Norfolk State, Hampton and Virginia Military Institute.
Right defensive end
Alabama: Phidarian Mathis was a four-star recruit from Monroe, Louisiana. Mathis was recruited as a defensive tackle and rated the seventh in the 2017 class. Mathis fielded offers from; LSU, TCU, Arizona State, Arkansas, etc.
Cincinnati: Malik Vann was a three-star recruit from Fairfield, Ohio . Vann was ranked as the 19th best strongside defensive end in the 2018 class and fielded offers from Alabama, Duke, Iowa, Florida State, etc.
Edge rusher 1
Alabama: Will Anderson was rated No. 1 weakside defensive end in his class, despite playing edge rusher, and the 17th overall player in the 2020 class. He was a five-star recruit from Hampton, Georgia, holding offers from; Georgia Tech, Boston College, Auburn, Georgia, etc.
Cincinnati: Darrian Beavers was ranked the 157th best safety out of college in the 2017 class. Beavers was a three-star recruit from Cincinnati Ohio and held offers from UConn, Ball State, Georgia State and Miami (Ohio). Beavers signed with UConn and played four seasons and changing position to edge rusher. He is a graduate transfer.
Edge rusher 2
Alabama: Dallas Turner was a five-star recruit from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He was rated the No. 1 edge rusher in his class and No. 12 overall in the class of 2021. He fielded offers from; Arkansas, Auburn, Baylor, Clemson, etc.
Cincinnati: Ty Van Fossen was a three-star recruit from Columbus, Ohio . Van Fossen was the 53rd best inside linebacker in the 2018 class and fielded offers from Boston College, Toledo, Rutgers, Bowling Green, etc. Van Fossen changed positions to edge rusher.
Alabama: Christian Harris was the No. 6 inside linebacker in the 2019 class. He was a four-star recruit from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and held offers from Texas A&M, LSU, Arkansas, Auburn, etc.
Cincinnati: Deshawn Pace was rated the 122nd best safety in the 2020 class before making the switch to inside linebacker. Pace was a three-star recruit from Cincinnati Ohio.
Alabama: Henry To’o To’o was a four-star recruit from Concord, California. He was recruited as an outside linebacker and was fourth at that position in the 2019 class. He was offered by; Alabama, Tennessee, Washington, Utah, etc. To’o To’o signed with Tennessee and after two seasons entered the transfer portal and committed to Alabama.
Cincinnati: Joel Dublanko was a three-star recruit from Bradenton, Florida. Dublanko was rated the 18th best inside linebacker in the 2016 class receiving offers from; Mississippi State, Tennessee, Washington State, Akron, etc.
Alabama: Kool-Aid McKinstry was ranked the best cornerback in the 2021 class and the 18th best player overall. McKinstry, a five-star recruit, is from Pinson, Alabama. McKinstry held offers from; Auburn, Clemson, Georgia, etc.
Cincinnati: Ahmad Gardner was ranked the 163rd cornerback in the 2019 class. The three- star recruit from Detroit Michigan fielded offers from; Indiana, Iowa State, Kentucky, Syracuse, etc.
Alabama: Khyree Jackson was a three-star wide receiver in the class of 2017 from Upper Marlboro, Maryland. He briefly attended Yuma Arizona Western in the fall of 2017 but left before the season and did not play during the 2017 and 2018 seasons. He spent the 2019 season at Fort Scott (Kansas) Community College. After moving to defensive back at East Mississippi Community College for one season, Jackson also had offers from Auburn, Florida, etc. He was ranked the second best cornerback and fourth overall juco player in the 2021 class.
Cincinnati: Coby Bryant was a three-star recruit from Cleveland Ohio. Bryant was ranked the 170th cornerback in the 2017 class and held offers from Marshall, Western Michigan, Kent State, Buffalo, etc.
Alabama: Demarcco Hellams was the eighth best safety in the 2019 class. The four-star recruit, from Hyattsville, Maryland, fielded offers from Clemson, Kentucky, Louisville, Maryland, etc.
Cincinnati: Ja’von Hicks was ranked the 215th wide receiver in the 2018 class before changing positions to safety. The three-star recruit from Cincinnati Ohio received offers from; Bowling Green, East Carolina and Kent State.
Alabama: Jordan Battle was a four-star recruit from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He was the second best safety in the 2019 class holding offers from Ohio State, Miami, Oklahoma, Michigan, etc.
Cincinnati: Bryan Cook was not rated out of Cincinnati and signed with Howard in the 2016 recruiting class. After two seasons, Cook transferred to Cincinnati in 2019.
Alabama: James Burnip is from Melbourne, Australia. A member of the 2022 class, Burnip committed to Ole Miss in January. He reclassified to the 2021 class in June and committed to Alabama.
Cincinnati: Mason Fletcher was a three-star recruit from Melbourne, Australia. Fletcher was listed as the third best punter in the 2020 class and only received an offer from Cincinnati.
Alabama: Will Reichard was a three-star recruit from Hoover, Alabama. Reichard was the No. 1 kicker in the 2019 class and held offers from; Georgia, LSU, Oklahoma, etc.
Cincinnati: Cole Smith was listed as the 20th best kicker in the 2017 class. The two-star recruit from Middletown, Ohio, only received an offer from Cincinnati.