The College Football Playoff committee has been under plenty of scrutiny since its inception in 2014. That’s something that should not come as a surprise, as oftentimes the opinions of the committee do not align with the opinions of teams who are left out of the four-team field. Some of the most notable controversy surrounding the committee has been the way that they rank non-Power Five schools.
Since 2016, there have been 6 instances in which a non-Power Five FBS team went undefeated in the regular season, only to be left out of the Playoff (2016 Western Michigan, 2017 and 2018 UCF, 2020 Cincinnati, 2020 Coastal Carolina, 2020 San Jose State). University of Texas San Antonio, currently sitting at 11-0 in 2021, but ranked 22nd in the committee’s rankings, is virtually guaranteed to join that group of teams that didn’t make the cut.
In each of these scenarios, the committee has justified their decision by pointing at the strength of schedule for these teams. It’s been assumed by many that it would take a “perfect storm” of strength of schedule luck, along with a whole lot of losing by Power Five teams in order for a non-Power Five team to ever make the Playoff.
2021 might just be that perfect storm.
Enter the 2021 Cincinnati Bearcats. 11-0 on the season, they are the current owners of the highest CFP ranking ever held by a non-Power Five school. They sit just one spot out of playoff contention, as they are ranked as the fifth best team in the nation by the committee. They possess something none of those undefeated non-power Five teams had: a road win over a top 10 team.
The 2020 version of Cincinnati also went undefeated in the regular season. However, their Peach Bowl loss to Georgia raised the question of whether they could keep up with top level competition.
Fast forward to 2021, where their early October tilt with Notre Dame proved not only that they can hang with the blue bloods—but they can beat them. The Bearcats beat the Fighting Irish in South Bend in a game that Cincinnati led from start to finish. While Notre Dame might not be on the level of an Alabama, a Georgia, or an Ohio State, but that win, coupled with an 11-0 record, is impressive enough to warrant a top four ranking and a shot at the title for Cincinnati.
Quarterback Desmond Ridder deserves a ton of credit on the offensive end for Cincinnati. He is in the midst of the best season of his career, having thrown for 2,699 yards, 25 touchdowns, and just 6 interceptions.
Running back Jerome Ford has been a difference maker out of the backfield, with just under 1,000 yards, averaging 6 yards per carry with 16 touchdowns. The Bearcats’ stout defense is led by projected first round pick Ahmad Gardner. The cornerback continues to not allow a single touchdown to be scored on him in his entire 3-year collegiate career.
Those three have played a huge part in why Cincinnati has handled their opponents pretty easily throughout the season. They are scoring a whopping 40 points per contest, while allowing just 16 per game, good for an average margin of victory of 24. The Bearcats are just allergic to playing close games at this point.
Another three dominoes fell into place for Cincinnati this past Saturday. Firstly, the Bearcats took care of business vs a solid SMU team, a game they led 48-0 at one point. Oregon, ranked 3rd heading into the week, was the recipient of a 38-7 beating at the hands of Utah. Their playoff hopes are just about over, meaning one less threat for Cincinnati to worry about. Michigan State took a beating of their own to Ohio State, 56-7, likely ending their playoff hopes as well.
One would assume that the committee has no choice but to slide Cincinnati into that coveted number 4 spot this Tuesday, but everyone knows that when it comes to non-Power Five teams, anything can happen with their ranking.
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