Jerome Ford has been a force for the Bearcats in 2021.
The junior running back has been a feature back for No. 4 Cincinnati, rushing twice as much as any other player on the team, and more than four times any other running back on the squad. His 6.22 yards per carry ranks 10th-best among running backs with at least 150 carries, and only six players scored more rushing touchdowns than his 19 in 2021.
On Friday, he’ll be taking the majority of the handoffs in the biggest game of his career as he and the Bearcats face Ford’s former team, No. 1 Alabama, in the College Football Playoff semifinal.
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What should you know about Ford? Sporting News breaks it down.
Landing with the Crimson Tide
It was inevitable when Cincinnati was slated to face Alabama that mention of Ford’s past would become a hot topic.
Before arriving in Ohio, Ford spent two seasons in Tuscaloosa, Ala., as a running back for Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide. He was on one team that reached the national championship in 2018, and another that just came up short of reaching the CFP in 2019.
Coming out of Armwood High School in Seffner, Fla., Ford was a four-star recruit ranked No. 370 in the nation and No. 12 among all-purpose backs in the 2018 class, according to 247Sports Composite Rankings. He chose the Crimson Tide over other offers including Cincinnati, USF, UNC and Louisville.
Ford didn’t play much his freshman season, rushing seven times for 37 yards and taking a redshirt for the season. In 2019, he carried the ball 24 times for 114 yards and scored three touchdowns.
“We thought Jerome was an outstanding player when he was with us,” Saban said, according to BamaOnLine. “He had some success with us, and I think he’s done a really, really good job of continuing to develop as a player. He’s got great speed. He’s physical. He makes people miss. He can run with power, and he’s had a fantastic year. I’m really happy that things have worked out well for him where he could create value for himself in terms of the goals and aspirations that he had.”
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Transfer to Cincinnati
During high school, Ford was recruited by Cincinnati running backs coach Gino Guidugli and said he felt he had a good relationship with the Bearcats coach.
So after his redshirt freshman season, when Ford decided he could use a change of scenery, Guidugli, who had shifted to the role of quarterbacks coach in 2018, came right back in pursuit of the running back.
“When I entered the transfer portal, I knew that Coach G was still a great guy and a place that I felt that I could go. That’s how I ended up choosing Cincinnati,” Ford said, according to BamaOnLine. “I still had that relationship with Coach G and I hit those guys up and they made it happen.”
Ford split time in 2020 with senior running back Gerrid Doaks. Doaks led the backfield with 673 rushing yards on 144 carries and scored seven touchdowns, while Ford rushed 73 times for 483 yards and eight touchdowns.
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But following Doaks’ graduation, Ford has been the signature back for the Bearcats in 2021. His 1,242 yards on 200 carries are far and away the most on the team, with quarterback Desmond Ridder the next closest rusher in both categories with 100 carries and 371 yards. And now, he wants to be known not as the former Alabama running back, but as the star Cincinnati back.
“It’s a great opportunity to play on a big stage,” Ford said, per BamaOnLine. “I’m thankful for everything Coach Saban has done for me and the opportunity to play at Alabama. But I’m a Bearcat, and I would kind of appreciate it if people stopped calling me ‘the Alabama transfer.’ I’m a Cincinnati Bearcat. But like I said, I’m thankful for everything Coach Saban did for me and the opportunity to play at Alabama, around all the great coaches and other great players.”
Jerome Ford NFL draft projection
Ford could still return for another season in Cincinnati should he choose to come back, but as a redshirt junior, he also has the option to make the leap to the NFL.
Should he turn pro, there would be plenty of teams interested in the running back. According to ESPN’s Mel Kiper’s big board, Ford is listed as the 10th running back in the draft class. Pro Football Network’s Oliver Hodgkinson said that he would have Ford as one of his top 100 players in the draft class.
Previously, the only top-30 rushing defenses he had faced were Houston (10th-fewest, 108.2 yards per game) and Notre Dame (30th-fewest, 127.3). Against Houston, he had 18 carries for 187 yards and two touchdowns, while he rushed 17 times for 71 yards against Notre Dame.
Ford’s game Friday will be a major trial for him. He is facing a defense that is allowing the fourth-fewest rushing yards per game among FBS teams at just 82.8 yards per game. Perform well in the Cotton Bowl, and his draft stock could skyrocket.