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College Football Playoff Team Profile: No. 4 Cincinnati
The Cincinnati Bearcats accomplished something that no other Group of Five conference team had been able to in the brief seven-year history of the College Football Playoff by earning a berth in the national semifinals.
The American Athletic Conference champions went 13-0 and defeated Houston in their league title game to retain the number four position in the final rankings and will meet number one Alabama in the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Eve.
Whether fifth-ranked Oklahoma State’s inability to get the ball into the end zone in the waning moments of their Big 12 championship clash with Baylor aided the Bearcats is unknown, but the stars seemed to align to allow Cincinnati to see how they measure up to the best teams in college football.
A big win over Notre Dame, who subsequently ran the table, and a dearth of undefeated or one-loss teams from the Power Five conferences clearly favored Cincinnati in their unlikely quest to make the CFP.
After an undefeated regular season and American title in 2020, the Bearcats reached sixth in the CFP rankings and played 11th ranked Georgia tough in a 24-21 loss in the Peach Bowl. The impressive showing put the Bearcats at eighth in the preseason polls for 2021 and positioned them to challenge for a playoff spot.
Head coach Luke Fickell’s team knew coming into the season that they would have to get through 2021 unblemished in order to have a shot at the CFP, and two games would be instrumental: Back to back contests with Indiana from the Big Ten and at 2020 CFP participant Notre Dame.
They were impressive in both wins, defeating what would end up as a 2-10 Indiana team without a conference win by the score of 38-24 and then topping the Fighting Irish 24-13 in what would be Notre Dame’s only defeat of the season.
Despite a couple of lackluster performances against Navy and Tulane in midseason, the CFP committee kept the Bearcats in the mix, and then Cincinnati took care of business down the stretch to secure a playoff berth as circumstances in other conferences broke in their favor.
When it finally came down to a decision between themselves and Notre Dame for the fourth and final CFP berth, their head-to-head performance against the Irish sealed the deal.
Cincinnati Did What They Had to Do
In addition to going undefeated, even if it was against a less than stellar schedule, the Bearcats were impressive from a statistical standpoint. They won by an average of 23 points a game and were fourth in points scored and eighth in points allowed on a national basis.
Defensively, they were seventh in the FBS in yards given up per game and were particularly stingy against the pass, ranking second in the nation with 168 yards allowed per game through the air.
On offense, they were led by quarterback Desmond Ridder, who threw for 30 touchdowns and ran for six more while completing 66% of his passes for 245 yards a game.
How Cincinnati will stack up against the defending national champions remains to be seen, especially since their biggest win of the season came against a Notre Dame team that ended up playing their best football later in the year.
For the Bearcats to have a chance against Alabama, they’ll need to figure out a way to contain quarterback Bryce Young and to control the ball on offense in order to limit the Crimson Tide’s scoring opportunities.
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