Cincinnati’s path to the College Football Playoff now rests in the hands of its remaining American Athletic Conference schedule — and remaining undefeated.
With one regular-season game left, the Bearcats are holding up their end of the bargain. And the Committee has, for the moment, seen the light.
The Bearcats moved to 11-0 on the season on Nov. 20, defeating SMU, 48-14. A few weeks ago, SMU was undefeated and ranked. Now, the Mustangs are sinking (perhaps under the rumors that head coach Sonny Dykes may be headed to TCU soon?). But, with some shake-up ahead of them in the CFP last weekend (most notably a loss by Oregon), Cincinnati is now No. 4 in the College Football Playoff rankings released on Nov. 23. No Group of 5 Team has ever been ranked in the Top 4.
From now until early December, the future Big 12-member Bearcats 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.
The Bearcats have 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 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 (and Cincinnati is Notre Dame’s only loss, by the way). It’s a resume the committee would have to strongly consider.
But, Cincinnati has to remain undefeated. If the Bearcats lose once, 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. After clinching a spot in the American Athletic Conference championship game, Cincinnati has two games remaining. Below, I look at Cincinnati’s remaining schedule and how the Bearcats can navigate their way to their best possible CFP resume.
At East Carolina, Nov. 26: File this name away — Mike Houston. He is East Carolina’s coach, and he has the Pirates not just bowling, but with seven victories heading into the game with the Bearcats. ECU has now won four games, and its last loss was an overtime loss to Houston. The Pirates can play free and easy, knowing a bowl berth is secure. And, boy, wouldn’t the Pirates love to screw up the Bearcats’ season. And, if they do, Houston is going to get some love on the coaching market. After all, he led James Madison to an FCS national championship before taking the ECU job. .
AAC title game, Dec. 4: We know the matchup. Cincinnati will face Houston in the AAC title game. As long as Cincinnati beats Houston, they’ll host the game. Remember — Houston is undefeated in AAC play, as well, since these two teams didn’t play each other. The good news for Cincinnati is that Houston plays UConn this weekend, which should allow the Cougars to finish 11-1 and remain in the CFP Top 25 (the Cougars are No. 24 this week). The Cougars being ranked helps the Bearcats out in a head-to-head scenario. It will also be the Bearcats’ toughest game in a month.
If the Bearcats can get to Dec. 5 and CFP Selection Sunday undefeated, and with a conference title in tow, well, let’s see the committee ignore that.
Note: This story was updated on Nov. 24 to reflect Cincinnati’s ranking in the College Football Playoff.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.
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