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Cincinnati knows it.
In fact, everybody knows it.
For the Bearcats to make the College Football Playoff, they must go above and beyond. They must convince the College Football Playoff Selection Committee, which has made it clear it does not much care for teams outside of Power Five conferences, that it can’t omit them this time around.
The Bearcats must leave no doubt, and that seems like an almost impossible task. Perhaps most importantly, they must get some help.
That help has steadily trickled in as the losses for other teams have mounted. Last week it was No. 1 Alabama falling to Texas A&M. This Saturday, No. 2 Iowa fell at home to Purdue.
Everything that needs to happen for Cincinnati to make the College Football Playoff is happening.
Iowa’s loss means Cincinnati will likely climb up yet another spot. And because Iowa was dominated at home, we might as well pull them from playoff consideration. One less team to worry about.
All of this is terrible news for teams still on Cincinnati’s schedule.
On Saturday, that team was Central Florida.
While the matchup between these two programs was a thriller a season ago, that was not the case this year. The Bearcats mauled the Knights 56-21, limiting a once-potent offense to less than 300 total yards.
If there was any doubt about how Luke Fickell’s team would fare in one of the “tougher” games remaining on its schedule—and at this point it’s hard to see how doubt will creep in—the answer was a convincing one.
The primary source of offense wasn’t quarterback Desmond Ridder, who has wiggled his way into the Heisman conversation. Instead, it was running back Jerome Ford—someone who should be appreciated far more than he is—who finished with 189 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
In many ways, Ford’s performance is synonymous with Cincinnati’s season. Overpowering and unrelenting. Constant and inevitable.
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It’s not just about the win. It’s about the score and a sustained level of dominance. From this point forward, expect the score to be lopsided in just about every game Cincinnati plays. For this team to make the playoff, it cannot sit on the ball with a lead. It has to turn victories into blowouts and blowouts into laughers.
Meanwhile, the losses have piled up around them. Chaos has been served weekly this season—the kind of season necessary for a Group of Five team to crash the CFB Playoff party—and Cincinnati has answered by bulldozing most everything in its path.
The Bearcats entered Saturday at No. 3 in the AP Poll, which is not normal placement for a team outside the Power Five. Although the playoff field won’t be decided for some time, the fact that Cincinnati has climbed the AP Poll this quickly speaks to the Bearcats’ play and the carnage this college football season has generated.
At 6-0, Cincinnati has wins over Indiana and Notre Dame. Both of those games were played on the road. While the Hoosiers are nowhere near the team they were a season ago, a double-digit win over the Irish in the back pocket could be quite meaningful come playoff time.
Still, the schedule has a ceiling. The remaining games simply don’t pack the same punch as what many other playoff hopefuls have in front of them.
Cincinnati still plays at Navy, at Tulane and at East Carolina. The Bearcats will be sizable favorites in all three of those games (obviously). The Bearcats’ most meaningful remaining regular-season game is a home contest against SMU at the end of November.
The Mustangs are unbeaten, and they have wiggled their way into the AP Top 25. Still, Cincinnati will be a sizable favorite here and in every game on the horizon.
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Even in a season where madness is the only constant, it’s hard to find the loss. This is a team with incredible balance, having entered Saturday with the nation’s No. 2 scoring defense and the nation’s No. 9 scoring offense.
And sure, the competition plays a role in that, but the point is inescapable.
At what point will the losses around Cincinnati become so pronounced that the College Football Playoff Selection Committee finally, once and for all, rewards a Group of Five team?
If it’s going to happen under the current playoff format, this feels like the year. While the arguments over the schedule will persist up until the moment the four-team field is decided, Cincinnati is making this discussion less controversial each week.
Years from now, the conversation will be different. For starters, Cincinnati will eventually play a Big 12 schedule and be treated much differently by the committee—assuming it still exists. The playoff will eventually expand to eight or 12 teams, giving others outside major conferences a legitimate crack at crashing the party.
For now, however, that exercise has proved to be impossible. A perfect regular season for the Bearcats last year wasn’t enough. Although in truth, that team wasn’t this good.
Something more than perfection will be required. Cincinnati will have to continue to blow teams out and cruise in the American Athletic Conference.
And yes, it might need more help. With so many more meaningful games to be played by College Football Playoff contenders, that help is likely to come. Whether it’ll be enough for Cincinnati to finally break through will be determined in the next few months.
For now, we know this: The Bearcats are good. No, really good. They belong.
With Iowa’s loss on Sunday, they will likely be ranked behind only Georgia in the AP Poll. That’s it.
Cincinnati has put itself in a position to crash a party no program like it has ever crashed—a party many are still hoping it doesn’t attend.
The deck is still stacked against them. The Bearcats know that. As such, good luck to everyone standing in their path.