No school outside the Power 5 has made the College Football Playoff, and this year might once again put the system to the test thanks to Cincinnati.
The Bearcats went unbeaten in the regular season last year and almost beat Georgia in the Peach Bowl, and they’d gotten off to a good start this year, too, including a tough win at Indiana. Today they faced their toughest test, in South Bend against fellow top-ten team Notre Dame and Cincinnati’s former coach Brian Kelly.
In the end, Cincinnati was just clearly the better team.
No. 7 Cincinnati goes on the road and takes down No. 9 Notre Dame 24-13.🏈 pic.twitter.com/LaVzdDijaL
— The Comeback (@thecomeback) October 2, 2021
In front of a surprisingly mixed crowd (Cincinnati fans traveled much better to South Bend than they did Bloomington), the Bearcats jumped out to a 17-0 lead at halftime, scoring all 17 in the second quarter. Notre Dame did manage to make things interesting for a bit, cutting the lead to 17-13 with about eight minutes left in the fourth quarter. But a quick Cincinnati touchdown response put the game out of reach, and it finished 24-13.
Listen, Cincinnati is a fantastic team. They probably deserved a playoff shot last year; their close to Georgia even looks more impressive now thanks to Georgia’s ridiculously good start to the year this year. But again, no Group of 5 school has ever made it, as NBC helpfully illustrated via weird club-entry based CGI graphics.
— no context college football (@nocontextcfb) October 2, 2021
The Bearcats, though, are probably about to enter the top 5, especially if Oregon loses to Stanford. (A fun aside: if that happens, and Penn State beats Indiana tonight, that would likely mean Indiana started the year 2-3 with three top-5 losses. Sorry, Hoosiers.)
The problem for Cincinnati, such as it is, is that the rest of the schedule doesn’t offer many opportunities to build the body of work so often cited by the playoff committee. Well, that’s the problem that everyone in the sport will point to when the CFP once again leaves out an unbeaten G5 team.
The real issue is that the sport is inherently biased against non-power conference schools, and until they actually put one of them in the playoff, it’s hard to imagine it happening. That’s a big reason why Cincinnati is joining the Big 12. For the sake of fun, though, maybe the committee will give Desmond Ridder and company a shot in a national semifinal. That would be fun as hell, no matter what happens.