Cincinnati’s College Football Playoff bid officially has entered the realm of the possible. Perhaps even probable. The Bearcats could be two wins away from breaking the Power 5 conferences’s 28-for-28 CFP bid stranglehold.
After nearly two full seasons of doing Cincinnati no favors, the selection committee slotted the undefeated Bearcats at No. 4 Tuesday night—the highest ranking for a Group of 5 conference team in the playoff’s seven-year history. With games remaining at East Carolina Friday and against Houston in the American Athletic Conference championship game, it would appear that Cincinnati controls its own destiny. Committee chair Gary Barta cited the Bearcats’ 48–14 rout of an 8–3 SMU team as a boost to their credibility. “Cincinnati at four the committee felt strongly about,” Barta said.
Barta said the committee compared Cincinnati in resume pods with both the three teams above it and the three teams behind it. The Bearcats seem to have settled into a sweet spot between those groups, despite prior knocks of their schedule. “The strength of schedule is always a conversation with Cincinnati,” Barta said. “It was a conversation again this week. But they … controlled the game (against SMU).”
Given the fact that Cincinnati will be strongly favored in its final two games, it might be more dependent upon style points against East Carolina and Houston than anyone else still in the playoff mix.
The other significant movement within the top five was Ohio State leapfrogging Alabama for second after housing highly ranked Michigan State, while the Crimson Tide scuffled a bit against Arkansas. With Oregon out of the way after being blown out by Utah, the head-to-head loss to the Ducks is no longer a roadblock for the Buckeyes. “It certainly gets your attention when they’re up 49–0 at half,” Barta said of Ohio State’s blowout of the Spartans, while also citing the close nature of Alabama’s game against the Razorbacks as the impetus for that change at No. 2.
The one team that continues to own its playoff spot without debate is top-ranked Georgia, which merely has to beat a tailspinning Georgia Tech team Saturday to all but lock up a bid, regardless of the outcome of the Southeastern Conference championship game against Alabama. That game will be much more important for the 10–1 Crimson Tide, which could need to win out to make the playoff for the seventh time in eight iterations.
One-loss teams ranked Nos. 5–7 seemingly all remain well within range of making the playoff: No. 5 Michigan, No. 6 Notre Dame and No. 7 Oklahoma State. The Wolverines certainly would leap into the top four Saturday with an upset win over Ohio State. The Fighting Irish have just one game left, at 3–8 Stanford, but stand to potentially benefit from either Michigan or Ohio State losing Saturday. And the Cowboys have two resume-enhancing opportunities remaining with No. 10 Oklahoma this week and then the Big 12 championship game.
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If the Sooners can win out, scoring an upset in Stillwater and then beating the Cowboys again in the Big 12 championship game, they could also vault into contention. The Big 12’s backloaded schedule provides some intrigue in the final weeks.
If everyone wins the games they will be favored to win, this could boil down to Georgia and Ohio State solidly at 1–2 and several teams in the mix for 3–4. Cincinnati has a hole card in comparisons with Notre Dame, having beaten the Fighting Irish in South Bend by double digits. How Notre Dame could compare with a one-loss Big 12 champion might ultimately be where the greatest tension (and final playoff bid) lies.
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