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Despite a Challenging Schedule, 2021 is Cincinnati's Best Shot at Reaching the CFP

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NCAA Football: Big 12 Media Days Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The CFB Season is Quickly Approaching

Seven Weeks.

That’s how far away the Cincinnati Bearcats’ season opener is.

Seven weeks until the first sniff of fall, seven weeks until school and seven weeks until football.

Are the Bearcats Playoff Bound?

For most CFB fans in Southwestern Ohio, that short time period is a positive.

For others, it’s a reminder of the inevitable disrespect and mistreatment that will face the Cincinnati Bearcats in the college football playoff rankings.

It’s an annual feeling of being criminally underrated. A yearly frustration of just wanting a chance to play for it all. The anger and rage knowing that they should be there.

And yet, for the first time in school history, there might actually be some hope for the Bearcats this time around. Not just the excitement over making a New Year’s Six Bowl, but something much, much, bigger.

Why Cincinnati's Challenging Schedule Qualifies as a Positive

Let’s face it: Cincinnati's schedule is nothing short of brutal. The Bearcats have to travel to South Bend to take on former HC Brian Kelly and Notre Dame. From there, it’s on to a stacked in-conference slate that features opponents such as UCF, SMU and Tulsa.

But as much as most fans may dislike this, there seems to be a silver lining here for the Bearcats.

No longer will the CFP committee be able to use the excuse of a “weak schedule.” Cincinnati's resume will be stacked top to bottom. They’ll for once possess all the intangibles needed to qualify for the final four.

A respectable record? Check. Quality wins? Check. Conference championship? Check. Undefeated season? Check.

Of course that’s all easier said then done, but it certainly matches Luke Fickell’s standards. And while it’s not the very toughest schedule in CFB, the Bearcats will surely have done enough to get in by winning out.

The Bearcats Possess the Pieces Needed to Make a Run

One of the most prominent issues among group of five teams has been the overall talent (or lack thereof) in comparison to power five teams. G5 teams have bolstered respectable records time and time again, but when it comes to overall athleticism and skills, they usually have nothing to show for.

There’s certainly been some exceptions (2000’s Boise State and 2000’s Utah to name a few), but the general rule of thumb is that G5 programs lack the size and speed that comes with the majority of P5 programs.

That’s not the case with this year’s Cincinnati Bearcats. Not at all.

Offensively, the Bearcats bring back AAC Offensive Player of the Year Desmond Ridder. The senior quarterback threw for 2,296 yards, 19 touchdowns and six interceptions in his junior campaign. He also rushed for nearly 600 yards and 12 TD’s on his way to earning the conference’s high honors.

Factor in that he’ll have a receiving core with plenty of returning talent, and Cinci might just own the most intriguing offense in the entire AAC.

The other side of the football, while not as fun to watch, is even better. Led by a top trio of cornerbacks and a stacked D-line, UC finished with one of the best overall team defenses in 2020.

2021 should be no different, especially when considering the fact that most of the elite talent will be back for another season.

Some of the Usual Suspects Might be in Store for a Challenging Year

The final factor (and maybe the most intriguing for the majority of CFB fans) is that some of the usual suspects of the CFP could be in for a “transition year.”

Whether it’s the loss of a top quarterback or defense core in the draft, quite a few programs will be taking on a completely new look. Looking at you, Bama, Clemson and Ohio State.

There’s also the prospect of certain top teams owning underwhelming schedule.

Take Clemson and Oklahoma, for example. Most of the Tigers’ and Sooners’ opponents are so laughable that a single loss might prove detrimental for the playoff hopes of either program.

Say Dabo Swinney and company drop their season opener to Georgia.

Where else do they get a ranked win before the ACC Championship Game?

North Carolina State? Florida State? Boston College?

They’d be lucky to get a W against an 8-plus win team before conference championship week.

Furthermore, an undefeated Cincinnati team with multiple top wins would surely get the edge over a one-loss Clemson team. There’d be no excuse to keep the Bearcats out, period.

What’s Next

Cincinnati kicks off its season on Saturday, September 4th, against the Miami (Ohio) RedHawks. The Bearcats haven’t lost the Battle for the Victory Bell since 2005 and hold a win streak of 14 against their cross-state rivals.

Fans of Down the Drive can look forward to a preview of that game (among others) in the following weeks leading up to the 2021 CFB season.