The biggest story of the college football season may very well end up with Cincinnati becoming the first team from the Group of Five conferences to gain entry into the College Football Playoff. See what we think is the case for them to be included and the case for them to be left on the outside looking in.
Cincinnati and the College Football Playoff
The second-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats from American Athletic Conference have risen to
number two in the polls, the highest-ranking in the history of the program, and the best for a Group of Five teams since the inception of the College Football Playoff (CFP) in 2014. The CFP committee will release its first ranking of the season on Tuesday, with 7-0 Cincinnati taking on 1-6 Tulane on the road after an unimpressive 27-20 win over Navy last week.
The Bearcats are Deserving of Consideration
Perhaps the stars are aligning in the favor of Cincinnati, with no teams looking particularly dominant with the exception of top-ranked Georgia in the SEC. Defending national champion Alabama was upset by Texas A&M, the Pac-12 is without an unbeaten team, Clemson from the ACC has lost two games to eliminate the perennial contender from the mix, Oklahoma is undefeated in the Big 12 but is doing it with mirrors and a one-loss team could emerge from the Big Ten.
Cincinnati entered the season in the top ten in the polls after finishing just outside the CFP in 2020 at number six in the committee’s rankings. The Bearcats had Indiana from the Big Ten and 2020 CFP participants on their schedule, winning them both and still having to play unbeaten American Athletic Conference foe and 19th ranked SMU at least once to run the table.
As Notre Dame has continued to win, with its loss to Cincinnati still the only defeat the Irish have been dealt, the Bearcats gain credibility both in the college football community but also with the CFP committee which will have a tough decision to make at the end of the season. If Notre Dame finishes with at most a couple of losses and SMU continues to win, Cincinnati can make a case of deserving a CFP berth.
The Cincinnati Schedule Isn’t Strong Enough
The counterargument is that Indiana, after beginning the season with a top 25 ranking, has yet to win a game in the Big Ten and has fallen to 2-5 overall on the season. What was supposed to be a signature 38-24 win for Cincinnati doesn’t look all that impressive in retrospect, at least not when it was a primary reason for the Bearcats to be considered worthy of making the CFP field.
Last week, the Navy entered the game with Cincinnati with a record of 1-5 and were dismal on the season from a statistical basis, but still managed to hang with the Bearcats in a close loss. Cincinnati looked unimpressive against a team that had suffered three losses by at least 18 points and had managed to score more than 20 points just twice in six games.
Even Notre Dame, which has somehow managed to navigate their way to a 6-1 start, hasn’t been particularly impressive, and now the way the Irish perform in their last five games will have a direct influence on Cincinnati. Notre Dame finishes with games against North Carolina, Navy, Virginia, Georgia Tech, and Stanford, with an unlikely 4-1 record the rest of the way almost an imperative for Cincinnati to be able to use the victory as justification for inclusion over a one-loss team from a Power Five conference, especially with the lack of scheduling depth the Bearcats face in the American.