For the first time in its since-2014 history, the College Football Playoff may actually select a Group of Five team. The Cincinnati Bearcats were ranked No. 4 by the CFP committee (No. 3 by the AP poll) entering Saturday’s American Athletic Conference title game against the Houston Cougars, and their 35-20 win there to improve to 13-0 certainly won’t hurt their case. And with No. 5 Oklahoma State falling to No. 9 Baylor in the Big 12 conference championship game, Cincinnati seems to have a pretty good shot; the next team up, No. 6 Notre Dame, is a team they beat (on the road, no less) back in October. Here’s what one prognosticator, ESPN’s Heather Dinich, wrote about the Bearcats Saturday night:
Cincinnati should finally be able to exhale, secure in its No. 4 spot. The Bearcats beat No. 21 Houston convincingly, leaving no doubt they were the better team. And they don’t have to worry about getting into a debate with Oklahoma State after the Cowboys lost to Baylor in the Big 12 title game. It’s highly unlikely the committee would put two-loss Baylor ahead of undefeated Cincinnati. As good as the Bears’ résumé is, Baylor didn’t exactly make a case for a top-four finish. Cincinnati did.
The Bearcats put on an impressive showing against Houston, especially when they scored 21 points in less than five minutes early in the third quarter to increase their 14-13 halftime lead to 35-13. That came on an eight-yard TD pass from Desmond Ridder to Leonard Taylor, then an interception from Joel Dublanko, a 21-yard TD pass from Ridder to Alec Pierce, a defensive stop, and then a 42-yard touchdown run from Jerome Ford. Here’s that last one:
— Adam Winkler (@AdamWinkABC13) December 4, 2021
On the day, Ford ran 18 times for 187 yards (10.4 yards per carry) and two touchdowns, while Ridder completed 11 of 17 passes (64.8 percent) for 190 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. Those two figures have been key for the Bearcats all year; heading into this game, Ford posted 182 carries for 1,055 yards and 17 touchdowns (5.8 yards per carry) and added 17 catches for 190 yards and a touchdown, while Ridder (seen above kissing the conference trophy postgame) completed 223 of 338 pass attempts (66.0 percent) for 3,000 yards with 27 touchdowns against eight interceptions. Both of those statlines look even better now. And they may get more chances still to improve them if they do wind up in the playoff.
[ESPN; photo from Sam Greene/The Cincinnati Enquirer, via USA Today Sports]