Cincinnati Bearcats

  • The undefeated Cincinnati Bearcats currently sit at #2 in the AP top 25 poll and look to become the first group-of-five program to make the CFP.
  • In four of the last five years, a 1-loss non-conference champion was selected as the fourth team in the playoffs, each time passing up on an undefeated group-of-five conference champion.

CINCINNATI – The undefeated Cincinnati Bearcats are looking to become the first non-power-five program to make the playoffs; however, they may be facing an uphill battle.

Those that have followed college football closely for the last few years will be well aware that going undefeated as a group-of-five team is not nearly enough to get consideration from the committee. In the last five seasons, there have been six ranked, undefeated conference champions from a group-of-five conference, and none of those received much attention from the playoff committee.

The Bearcats Path To Make The CFP

The first step to making the playoffs as a group-of-five team is going undefeated and winning their respective conference. Cincinnati has taken care of business on that front to this point, and their only real remaining test is a late-November conference game against SMU.

The Bearcats are tied for second in the AAC, so if they stay perfect through the regular season, they almost certainly will have a great chance to win the American Conference.

Cincinnati has already done something vital in the eyes of the Playoff Committee: they defeated a ranked major program on the road when they took down the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in Week 4.

Historically, the most common counterargument group-of-five schools face when arguing for a playoff spot is their strength of schedule. While the rest of their schedule is certainly on the softer side, regular-season wins over Notre Dame, SMU, and Indiana should bolster their playoff resume.

The final and most important factor that plays into Cincinnati’s chances of making the playoffs is slip-ups from other top contenders. With only four playoff spots available, the competition’s performance is just as important as Cincinnati’s own.

In 2021, the winner of the SEC (likely Georgia) can be essentially locked into the playoffs – you can do the same with the winner of the Big 10. If Oklahoma holds on and wins the Big 12, they’ll almost certainly get a bid. Therefore, the last spot will likely go to the best remaining team.

With Alabama and several Big 10 teams looming, Cincinnati will likely need each non-conference champion to have at least 2 losses. In four of the last five years, the playoff committee has selected a 1-loss non-conference champion as the fourth team in the playoffs, each time passing up on an undefeated group-of-five conference champion.

Cincinnati sitting at #2 in the AP poll is a great sign for the Bearcats; however, we will know more about where they actually sit in the playoff landscape when the first CFP rankings are unveiled. For now, the Bearcats must continue to win in a convincing fashion, but they cannot do it alone with the committee historically biased against smaller-name programs.

Past Non Power 5 Teams That Missed Out

Perhaps the most egregious of these was the 2017-18 UCF Knights, who were the only undefeated team in the entire FBS, yet did not get a playoff nod. Then-UCF head coach Scott Frost (now at Nebraska) was vocal about what he perceived as clear bias among the playoff selectors.

In the end, a non-conference champion (Alabama) got the nod over the Knights, though the Knights defeated Auburn in the Peach Bowl and finished ranked first in the Colley Matrix, a mathematically-based ranking system recognized by the NCAA as a major selector of championships.

Despite this performance in 2017-18, the Knights went undefeated again in the following year and were still left out of the playoffs.

Then in 2020-21, there were three undefeated group-of-five conference champions left out of the playoffs (Cincinnati, Coastal Carolina, and San Jose State).

Cincinnati will look to stay undefeated as they visit Tulsa this Saturday. The Bearcats currently sit as 25-point favorites on internet sportsbooks, with (-3000) moneyline odds.

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