Cincinnati’s path to the College Football Playoff now rests in the hands of its remaining American Athletic Conference schedule — and remaining undefeated.
The Bearcats opened AAC play with a 52-3 drubbing of Temple in front of a sellout crowd at Nippert Stadium, the home stadium of the future Big 12 member. I watched that game. The Bearcats just flattened the Owls.
From now until early December, the Bearcats (5-0, 1-0) will remain a part of the College Football Playoff conversation — as long as they remain undefeated. That’s good news for the Bearcats, but it’s also a fine line to walk from now until early December.
At the end of Week 6, the Bearcats were a Top 4 team in both polls, with the Bearcats holding the No. 3 ranking in the Associated Press Top 25 and the No. 4 ranking in the USA Today Coaches Top 25. They certainly benefited from the chaotic week, which included Alabama’s loss to Texas A&M and Iowa’s win over Penn State.
We won’t know what the College Football Playoff committee thinks until Nov. 2 when its first rankings come out. So aligning the current poll with their logic is useless right now.
I believe the Bearcats have perhaps the best opportunity we’ve seen since the College Football Playoff era began to ‘test’ the notion that the playoff is ‘open’ to all. Assuming the Bearcats can win out, they’ll provide the committee with a 13-0 resume that includes a conference championship and two victories over Power 5 teams, one of which is a tentpole program for the entire game, Notre Dame. It’s a resume the committee would have to strongly consider.
But, Cincinnati has to remain undefeated. If the Bearcats lose one, it’s over. And we’ve seen plenty of Group of 5 teams in the Bearcats’ place lose that one game they’re not supposed to lose. And Cincinnati’s remaining schedule has pitfalls, to be sure. Below, I look at Cincinnati’s remaining schedule and how the Bearcats can navigate their way to their best possible CFP resume.
Vs. UCF, Oct. 16: Here’s a big pitfall game for the Bearcats. UCF is trying to do the same thing Cincinnati is right now — impress their future colleagues in the Big 12. The Knights have been up-and-down. They beat Boise State in the opener but fell to Navy in their AAC opener. The two teams have only played each other six times, and they’ve split those six meetings. The Bearcats, however, have won the last two. To me, this might be end up being Cincinnati’s biggest hurdle to an undefeated season.
At Navy, Oct. 23: Navy beat UCF, as noted above. But that’s the Midshipmen’s only win to this point. Still, Navy has a 3-1 record against Cincinnati and the Midshipmen play that offense teams only see one time a year, the triple option. I don’t think they’re as concerning as UCF, but the combination of the triple option and the road game should keep the Bearcats on guard.
At Tulane, Oct. 30: My colleague at the College Football America Yearbook checked out the Green Wave’s game with Houston, a 40-22 loss. At least the Green Wave have a Top 3 mascot.
Vs. Tulsa, Nov. 6: I saw Tulsa in person in the season-opening loss to UC Davis. Head coach Phillip Montgomery might be gone by then.
At USF, Nov. 12: The end of a three-game stretch where, honestly, the Bearcats should roll. That alone makes the trip to Tampa a bit dangerous.
Vs. SMU, Nov. 20: This game could get really interesting, if both the Bearcats and Mustangs continue to track as undefeated teams. SMU is getting some Top 25 love, too. Regardless of whether the Mustangs are still undefeated or not by this point, this will be the Bearcats’ biggest test in a month. The good news for the Bearcats is they’re 4-1 all-time against SMU. Plus, it’s at Nippert.
At East Carolina, Nov. 26: Cincinnati is on a three-game winning streak against the Pirates. If Cincinnati is undefeated by this point, it just has to keep from ‘looking ahead’ to the league title game.
AAC title game, Dec. 4: Should the Bearcats reach this point undefeated, they would likely host the game for the second straight year. While it would be difficult to predict who would face the Bearcats, it should be noted that Houston is already 3-0 in league play and the Cougars won’t play the Bearcats in the regular season.
If the Bearcats can get to Dec. 5 undefeated, and with a conference title in tow, well, let’s see the committee ignore that.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.
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