After a 35-13 win over East Carolina on Black Friday, the Cincinnati Bearcats (12-0, 8-0 American Athletic Conference) finished at No. 4 in the penultimate College Football Playoff Rankings. The Bearcats — now 12-0 for the first time since Brian Kelly was head coach — are set to play Houston (11-1, 8-0 American Athletic Conference) on Saturday for an essential New Year’s Six Bowl clincher. Houston enters the matchup with eleven straight wins (notable victories include Memphis and SMU) subsequent to dropping their first game of the season to Texas Tech. The Cougs, while not in the current playoff picture, would presumably jump over the Bearcats and San Diego State with a championship weekend upset.
Aside from AAC matters, Saturday will feature several notable conference title games across the power five. The conferences with a horse in the CFP race include the Big 12, Big Ten and SEC.
Notable Conference Championship Games on Saturday
Pac-12: No. 17 Utah (9-3) vs. No. 19 Oregon (10-2)
Big 12: No. 9 Baylor (10-2) vs. No. 5 Oklahoma State (11-1)
SEC: No. 3 Alabama (11-1) vs. No. 1 Georgia (12-0)
AAC: No. 21 Houston (11-1) vs. No. 4 Cincinnati (12-0)
ACC: No. 16 Wake Forest (10-2) vs. No. 15 Pitt (10-2)
Big Ten: No. 13 Iowa (10-2) vs. No. 2 Michigan (11-1)
The main question surrounding Cincinnati’s Playoff hopes is whether the Bearcats control their own destiny. Their ranking of No. 4 would say yes, but the looming threat of No. 5 Oklahoma State garnering a third win vs. a currently ranked team (Previous: Baylor and Oklahoma) could allude to chaos among selecting the fourth and final contender.
“So they’re going to play a champ game against Houston,” CFP Committee Chairman Gary Barta said of Cincinnati during the penultimate rankings press conference. “Georgia and Alabama are going to play. Michigan and Iowa are going to play. Oklahoma State and Baylor. We’re going to watch all those games. And then until that occurs, until the last game is played, we won’t be having any conversations about who is going to be 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, et cetera, and that’s the way we go about it.”
The message? Cincinnati will learn it’s fate on Saturday. There’s about a few dozen scenarios that could play out in the Bearcats favor; however, beating Houston won’t neccesarily guarentee them a spot. Oklahoma State could win, Alabama could win, Michigan could win. If that happens, the door could very well shut on an undefeated campaign that’s witnessed Luke Fickell and co. garner wins over power five and group of five programs alike.
Is all that likely? Probably not. Is it fair? Definitly not. But IT IS one of the many scenarios that could play out on selection Sunday.
Down the Drives’s Break Down of Possible Selection Sunday Scenarios
Scenario #1: Georgia, Michigan, Cincinnati and Oklahoma State win
- Georgia, 2. Michigan, 3. Cincinnati or Oklahoma State, 4. Cincinnati or Oklahoma State
Simply put, this is favored scenario. Assuming Georgia handles business against Alabama, the door is open for both Cincinnati and Oklahoma State to claim the final two spots in the playoff. The only worthwhile question is whether the Cowboys own the merit to jump the Bearcats for the No. 3 spot bases on recent wins against Oklahoma (No. 14) and Baylor (No. 9).
Scenario #2: Georgia, Michigan, Cincinnati and Baylor win
- Georgia, 2. Michigan, 3. Cincinnati, 4. Notre Dame OR Baylor OR Alabama
If Baylor upsets Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Championship Game and the rest of the presumed favorites win, Notre Dame (Currently No. 6 in the CFP) would have the inside track for the 4th and final spot on selection Sunday. Both the 11-2 Bears (Big 12 Conference Champion) and Alabama (SEC Runner-up) would also be alternate choices depending on how the games play out.
Scenario #3: Alabama, Michigan, Cincinnati and Oklahoma State win
- Alabama, 2. Michigan, 3. Georgia, 4. Cincinnati OR Oklahoma State
For all the Bearcats undefeated season has been worth, there is one scenario — just one — where Cincinnati could find itself on the outside looking in regardless of Saturday results against Houston. An Alabama upset over Georgia, while not the favored pick, would send both the Crimson Tide and Dawgs to the College Football Playoff. Assuming all the other favorites win — Michigan, Cincinnati and Oklahoma State — there’s going to one VERY unhappy team subsequent to selection Sunday. The question is, will that be Cincinnati or Oklahoma State?
Scenario #4: Alabama, Iowa, Cincinnati and Oklahoma State win
- Alabama, 2. Georgia, 3. Cincinnati or Oklahoma State, 4. Cincinnati or Oklahoma State
Similar scenario, but this time BOTH Cincinnati and Oklahoma State reach the College Football Playoff based on Iowa’s nightcap upset over Michigan. Georgia falls only 1 spot and faces whoever the committee deems the better team between the two schools.
Scenario #5: Georgia, Iowa, Cincinnati and Oklahoma State win.
- Georgia, 2. Cincinnati or Oklahoma State, 3. Cincinnati or Oklahoma State, 4. Notre Dame
With all the talk of who’s superior between the current No. 4 and No. 5 in the College Football Playoff Rankings, scenario #5 would provide a hands-on opportunity at a semifinal between the two programs. If the majority of favorites — aside from Michigan — handle business (After all, Harbaugh has a tendency of pulling Harbaughs in big moments) Cincinnati, Oklahoma State and Notre Dame will find themselves within the top four on selection Sunday.
Scenario #6: Georgia, Iowa, Cincinnati and Baylor win
- Georgia, 2. Cincinnati, 3. Notre Dame, 4. Baylor OR Alabama
One final scenario. If Iowa and Baylor produce upset-garnering performances while the two remaining undefeated teams — Georgia and Cincinnati — down their opponents, the CFP would likely comprise of an opening round rematch between the Bearcats and Notre Dame. It’s a long shot (especially considering the Irish would jump three spots despite failing to play a 13th game) but nonetheless a dream scenario for Luke Fickell and his former defensive coordinator — Marcus Freeman — who was named the new head coach in South Bend after Brian Kelly departed for LSU on Tuesday morning. Freeman, who kickstarted the DNA of UC’s prolific defense, has raked in four four-Star recruits to Notre Dame since he first arrived on campus.
Down the Drive’s Current Playoff Rankings
Clayton Trutor: 1. Georgia, 2. Cincinnati, 3. Michigan, 4. Alabama, 5. Notre Dame, 6. Oklahoma State, 7. Baylor, 8. Ole Miss, 9. Ohio State, 10. Pitt
First and foremost, Down the Drive’s rankings aren’t meant to disrespect Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide in and way. If they win, they’ll be the undisputed No. 1 team in the nation with wins over Georgia (Currently No. 1), Ole Miss (Currently No. 8) and Arkansas (Currently No. 22). If they lose, they will likely miss the top four depending on the results of the other conference championship games.
Oklahoma State is something similar. The Cowboys need not be worried about finishing behind Notre Dame (after all, their already ahead of the Irish in the current CFP Rankings) if they manage bussinnes as usual on Saturday. However, their loss to 7-5 Iowa State provides a bad taste at the mouth of just about any college football fan.
Down the Drive’s Current Playoff Predictions
Ryan Randone: 1. Georgia, 2. Michigan, 3. Cincinnati, 4. Notre Dame
Clayton Trutor: 1. Georgia, 2. Michigan, 3. Cincinnati, 4. Notre Dame
Ben Adams: 1. Georgia, 2. Michigan, 3. Cincinnati, 4. Notre Dane
The uniform concensus promoted by Down the Drive follows scenario #2 in which all favorites but Oklahoma State heed off the underdogs. Bama and the Pokes are out, Cincinnati and Notre Dame are in. This scenario would result in heated debates with 11-2 Big 12 Champ Baylor also wanting a piece of the playoff pie, but the Bears come up just short in our projections.