As the third-ranked team in the country, Ohio State is very much an odds-on contender for this season’s College Football Playoff, but as far as I’m concerned, they aren’t the only contender from the Buckeye state. At 7-0, the No. 7 Cincinnati Bearcats should absolutely still be in the conversation when the committee convenes to try and make sense of this mess of a season; and I’m not just saying that because I picked them to be in the final four in our preseason predictions!
But here’s the thing, Luke Fickell’s team is still on the outside looking in, and I don’t know that anything that’s still to come on their schedule will make up the gap with one-loss teams like Clemson, Texas A&M, and Florida still ahead of them; of course, those rankings are from the AP poll, which ultimately means nothing once the CFP rankings are unveiled this coming Tuesday, Nov. 24.
Of course, who knows what kinds of fresh chaos are in store the rest of this season, and UC’s wins over Army (6-2), SMU (7-2), and Memphis (4-2) are nice — and the ‘Cats still have UCF (5-2), Tulsa (5-1), and the AAC Championship to play — but is that enough to make a case to be included over a Notre Dame team that beat Clemson in the regular season before losing in the ACC Championship? Unfortunately, probably not.
But, if Coach Fickell could figure out a way to add another marquee matchup against another undefeated non-Power Five contender, it might just be enough to push them over the edge against a one-loss P5 non-champion.
So with that in mind, the great and the good folks over at r/CFB noticed that just such a match-up, might actually be possible.
Was looking through a few teams' schedules after the recent wave of postponements and noticed a neat new development. pic.twitter.com/TJO4t0SNFZ— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) November 20, 2020
Of course the other non-traditional power absolutely building a case for a playoff berth this season is the BYU Cougars. At 8-0, they are beating teams by 31.3 points per game, but as an independent, all of their high-profile matchups were cancelled when leagues went to conference-only schedules out of an abundance of COVID caution.
So, as it stands now, the Cougs’ best wins are against Troy (4-3), LA Tech (4-3), UTSA (5-4), and Boise State (3-1). BUT, there’s a catch. They currently do not have a game scheduled for Dec. 5, and, as luck would have it, neither does UC. Cincinnati and Tulsa were originally supposed to play on Oct. 17 before the game was to Dec. 4. However, on Friday, the game was again rescheduled by the AAC office.
Given the new schedule, for the Bearcats, the newly open week comes in between matchups against Temple and Tulsa, and assuming that they make the AAC title game, they would be playing nine weeks in a row with an added game against BYU.
For the Cougars, they are scheduled to play North Alabama tomorrow, but their only other currently scheduled game is against San Diego State on Dec. 12. So, it’s a no-brainer that BYU should want to get a game against Cincinnati on the schedule, but 12-dimensional chess is a little trickier for UC.
By Dec. 5, the Bearcats will probably be looking forward to the off week after six-straight weeks of games, and they will likely want to prepare and recuperate before playing a good Tulsa team and (theoretically) the AAC Championship Game.
BYU is almost out of opportunities to pad their resume, but for Fickell’s crew, wins against the Golden Hurricanes and whomever they play for the conference title would certainly help if one of the P5 teams above them falters; but they’d still probably need help from multiple directions to make the playoff field.
So, in the horrendous year that is 2020, how could the college football gods guarantee that we mere mortals who have persevered through unfathomable challenges over the last eight months are duly rewarded for our devotion to this nutty sport?
Make this game a College Football Playoff quarterfinal game.
You heard me, the CFP should break from tradition and say that if BYU and Cincinnati play on Dec. 5 and then the winner finishes their season undefeated, they will automatically be awarded one of the four spots in this year’s playoff. Go with the other top three teams — whomever they might be in one month’s time — and then the winner of the inaugural G5ish Play-In Game.
Literally, will anyone miss a one-loss Notre Dame not getting a chance at a rubber match against Clemson? Do we really need to see a one-loss Wisconsin in the playoff after they missed (at least) two games due to a coronavirus outbreak on their team? Is a one-loss, non-champion SEC team really worthy of a berth in this year where the entire conference forgot how to play defense?
The answer to all of those questions, dear reader, is an emphatic “no.”
But what about an undefeated, PAC-12 champion Oregon, you ask? Well, if Alabama and Ohio State win out, they’re in. The winner of a likely ACC title game between ND and Clemson is in (in my opinion), putting the Ducks in the fourth spot if we were playing by the regular seeding rules (if Clemson does win the ACC, I could see them getting the fourth seed behind No. 3 Oregon, but in my hypothetical world in which there are only three P5 spots available, there’s no way that the committee puts the Ducks in over the Tigers).
So, what would I say to an undefeated, Power Five conference champ that doesn’t make the playoff due to a team from a “lower level” getting their spot? Simple, I’d say “tough titties.”
For generations, the big dogs in college football have been flexing their physical and financial muscles and stealing opportunities from deserving smaller programs to compete for titles and respectability.
In this year of all years, we should be finding ways to make things more compelling, not less. The Cats and the Cougars deserve a seat at the playoff table, and this is how we can guarantee that they get one.
So, on Tuesday, when Rece Davis and the ESPN crew release the first CFP rankings of the season, the selection committee chair Rob Mullens should open with a statement saying that Cincinnati and BYU will play on Dec. 5, and that it will serve as a quarterfinal game for the playoff.
Does it make any logistical sense? No, not really, but has anything this year made any sense? Is it fair to Oregon (or any other deserving fourth seed that would “lose” a spot)? Nope, but I don’t really care, do you?
BYU has scored the second most points of any FBS team in the country this year while giving up the sixth fewest per game nationally. No matter their opponents, they deserve a shot. UC is third in the defensive points per game category, and are 13th in the country on offense. That’s pretty impressive.
These two teams are good, are they Alabama, Ohio State, and Clemson good? Probably not. But, while I think that there is a very legitimate shot that the quarterfinal winner would get blown out in the playoff, what if they didn’t?
What if they came in as the four-seed and upset No. 1 Alabama? Can you imagine how excited the totality of the non-Alabama college football world would be? Think about the jokes on Twitter. Think about how petty people would be dunking on Crimson Tide fans. Think about all of the mock “SEC! SEC! SEC!” chants. Don’t you want that? I know I do.
2020 has been an absolute hellscape for many of us. We deserve to see a College Football Playoff Quarterfinal between BYU and Cincinnati, and we deserve to see what the underdog can do against the overdogs in the playoff. So, come on playoff committee, have some guts and make the collective dreams of college football fans happen.
After some unexpected start and stops, I am back to posting a column every single day from preseason camp until whenever Ohio State’s football season ends. Some days they will be longer and in depth, some days they will be short and sweet. Let me know what you think of this one, and what you’d like to see me discuss in the comments or on Twitter. Go Bucks!