AP Photo/Julio Cortez
The Cincinnati Bearcats are right in the middle of the College Football Playoff race at No. 6 after the release of the initial rankings on Tuesday, but some were surprised to see them below No. 2 Alabama, No. 4 Oregon and No. 5 Ohio State.
Those three teams all have a loss while the undefeated Bearcats remain undefeated, but CFP chairman Gary Barta told reporters the selection committee still respects the American Athletic Conference team.
“The committee has great respect for Cincinnati,” he said. “The win at Notre Dame is really impressive. When you look at their schedule after that, who else did they beat? That was the question.”
While the Bearcats are on the outside looking in when it comes to the top four, Tuesday’s release was also just the first set of rankings.
They still have a golden opportunity to become the first Group of Five team to make the CFP, and the win at Notre Dame that Barta mentioned is a primary reason why. Cincinnati was in full control for much of that contest and survived a late challenge from the Fighting Irish, who checked in at No. 10 following wins over Virginia Tech, USC and North Carolina.
If Notre Dame continues to win, that victory will only look better in retrospect for Luke Fickell’s squad.
The Bearcats would be better positioned, though, if Indiana lived up to expectations. The Hoosiers lost just one regular season game in 2020 to Ohio State and had high expectations coming into the 2021 campaign but are just 2-6 at this point.
Cincinnati’s win over Indiana is not carrying nearly as much weight as was expected and is surely one reason why its strength of schedule is ranked 100th by ESPN.
There is still a pathway for the Bearcats to reach the CFP considering No. 1 Georgia could play No. 2 Alabama in the SEC title game, No. 5 Ohio State still plays No. 3 Michigan State and No. 7 Michigan, and No. 4 Oregon has potentially challenging road games against Washington and Utah remaining on the schedule.
That means a number of potential losses remain for the top contenders, and the Bearcats could move up if they keep winning.
They are also ahead of undefeated Oklahoma and Wake Forest, which might ultimately be more important than whether they are behind teams that still have to play each other.