For the first time since the College Football Playoff was established in 2014, there was a real, genuine hope that Cincinnati would write history as the first group of 5 teams to reach the top four.
The CFP selection committee reminded us all once again that the Group of 5 does not have to apply to the playoffs, that it is judged by a different set of rules that it could just as well play for crumpets and not national championships.
Despite the best non-conference record of an undefeated group of 5 teams ever presented to the committee, Cincinnati landed as No. 6 in the first rankings revelation Tuesday – a complete and utter joke that offends any school, living outside the major conferences.
The selection committee might want to pat itself on the back for placing Cincinnati higher than any group of 5 teams in playoff history. But the hypocrisy would be laughable if it were not so pathetic. When UCF went undefeated in 2017 and 2018 and did not even come close to the top four, people like CFP CEO Bill Hancock told us all that if the Knights’ non-conference schedule was just a little bit better, who knows what might have happened ?
Hancock in particular held 2016 Houston as a shining example. That season, Houston beat Oklahoma to open the year. But the Cougars stumbled during conference play and they were eliminated from consideration. Back in 2018, when asked if the committee was unfair to a group of 5 teams, Hancock told ESPN: “I’m not buying it. Look no further than Houston. Everything was needed for them, a good schedule, a good conference schedule ., and I just disagree with those people. “
Cincinnati has a good schedule. Same conference (AAC) as Houston, actually. Its definitive road victory without conference over Notre Dame is actually better at this point in the season than the 2016 Houston victory over Oklahoma (played in a neutral spot).
The Sooners started 1-2 that year. Nr. 10 Notre Dame is currently 7-1. In addition to the victory over Notre Dame, Cincinnati beat Indiana – giving the Bearcats two victories over Power 5 non-conference opponents. On the road. That was exactly what they were asked for, and yet not good enough. It’s not Cincinnati’s fault that Indiana has not lived up to expectations this year.
In contrast, No. 5 Ohio State does not have a win outside of conferences. While it’s true that Ohio State predominantly plays Power 5 teams because it’s in the Big Ten, this leads once again to the same debate we’ve had since UCF tried to rabble themselves into the top four: If is not something that group of 5 teams can do in their non-conference plan, so what is the point of including them in this Power 5 playoff invitation?
The conference strength of schedules between Power 5 and Group of 5 will always be strongly skewed towards Power 5. If stronger non-conference schedules can not mitigate this fact, then the College Football Playoff selection committee for once must be honest and just come out and Say it: Sorry, group of 5 teams. There really is nothing you can do.
Try again … never.
The sad truth is this: Every year, the goalposts keep moving. When the playoffs were created, we were fed the line that this would help group of 5 teams finally have a chance after BCS closed all undefeated group of 5 programs from the top two. So go undefeated and the top four are waiting!
But then it was not enough to end undefeated. Then they were told that they should build strong non-conference plans and also go undefeated. But also make sure their conference is strong enough to help. But maybe they also need to blow all opponents out now. Cincinnati fought the Navy and Tulane before retiring to win the final two weeks. It is also not allowed.
So let me now consult this very long checklist that only applies to the group of 5:
Get yourself a tough schedule for non-conferences.
Make sure these games are on the go.
Make sure everyone in your conference is good.
Make sure to blow everyone out of your good conference.
See? None of these teams will ever be enough.
Instead of rewarding Cincinnati with a top-4 spot as one of six undefeated teams left, the committee chose to reward two teams with a loss: No. 2 Alabama and No. 4 Oregon. But placing Cincinnati as No. 6 was not the only attention that caught on Tuesday.
The committee ranked undefeated Oklahoma No. 8, a charge against the Sooners’ sloppy, inconsistent play all season, including a near-loss to Kansas. In the second big shock, it may have been more confusing to see a Pac-12 team with one loss in the Top 4. The committee clearly gave Oregon credit for a big win over Ohio State, and that should certainly put the Ducks over the Buckeyes. But Oregon also lost to a below-average Stanford team, scratching for victories over Cal and UCLA … you know, a bit like what Cincinnati did the last two weeks.
It’s taking us to Alabama. Its best non-conference victory is over … 4-4 Miami. But the committee has shown over the course of its history that the SEC force in the schedule is all that really matters when it comes to the evaluation of schools from that conference versus everyone else.
There are those who might want to shoot back and say, “Alabama / Ohio State / Georgia would crush Cincinnati in a playoff game!” Was it not less than a year ago when Cincinnati nearly upset Georgia in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl? Or does it not count because Georgia “did not care” and “did not play hard” because it missed the playoffs?
The fact is, No. 6 may be the ceiling for Cincinnati unless chaos ensues ahead. But even if everyone loses and the Bearcats end up undefeated, it’s obvious that teams with one loss – perhaps even an Alabama with two losses – will find their way ahead of the Bearcats, given how the rankings look today. Cincinnati will not have a better win the rest of the season than Notre Dame. Wins over SMU and in its conference championship game will pale in comparison to what the upcoming teams have in store.
Cincinnati sits in the top four in both the coaches and the AP poll, giving a glimmer of hope that the selection committee would follow suit. But the committee has telegraphed exactly how it is with the 5-group for seven years now.
How silly to think that this year could be any different.