Cincinnati's players and coaches on Monday downplayed any role the underdog label might play for the Bearcats against heavily favored Alabama in the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic in Arlington, Texas, on Friday.
The Crimson Tide are a 13½-point favorite against the Bearcats, who went 13-0 this season and have won 23 of their past 24 games dating to the end of the 2019 campaign. Cincinnati's 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.
Meanwhile, despite Bama being a clear favorite heading into kickoff, Tide star linebacker Will Anderson said he feels his team also can lay claim to having underdog status in the CFP semifinals.
"I feel like we're the underdog in this game," he told reporters on Monday. "All year we've been disrespected."
The comment came just 10 days after teammate and defensive lineman Phil Mathis made similar claims about the Tide shifting their mindset to adopt the "underdog mentality" against the Bearcats.
On the other side of things, Cincinnati 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."
As Bearcats senior 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 semifinal games in the CFP era have been close; eleven of the 14 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," Bearcats 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.