The University of Cincinnati had seven head football coaches between 1969 and 1993. One left for Harvard. Another left for Rice.
The Bearcats also won one conference championship between 1964 and 2008 and if you’re not immediately sure which conference, don’t worry. There were several.
Everyone can win in basketball. Gonzaga proved that. Not everyone can win in football, or at least turn winning into a championship.
When Cincinnati was buzzed into the College Football Playoff on Sunday, it repudiated the last plausible criticism of the CFP.
A “Group of Five,” or Triple-A, conference can indeed win it all. It takes a little extra, sure, but it’s not a closed shop.
When Cincinnati went to 13-0 with its American Conference championship win over Houston, a Bearcats’ fan held a sign that said, “Power Five Is An Opinion. 13-0 Is Fact.” This became possible with a 24-13 win over Notre Dame, which was undefeated otherwise.
That’s all the selection committee demanded of the Group of Fives. Win all your games, schedule a giant and slay it. The 2015 UCF team that went unbeaten and knocked off Auburn in the Peach Bowl did not have that gleaming regular-season breakthrough.
Plus, Cincinnati had gained credibility, right or wrong, by taking Georgia to the last three seconds of last year’s Sugar Bowl, a 24-21 loss. The Bearcats have won 23 of their past 24 games.
Such New Year’s Six bowls as the Sugar last year, with all the money, is how the CFP bought off the Group of Five and recognized their viability. A sudden powerhouse like Cincinnati shouldn’t be held responsible for the state of its conference. But neither should it be able to cruise into the throne room while stronger conference runners-up are left behind.
That means Cincinnati had to thread an extremely narrow needle, and knew it well in advance. Thanks to a roster that is projected to send at least five players into the first three rounds of the NFL draft, it did.
Ask Pittsburgh if it’s easy to go undefeated. The Panthers are celebrating an ACC Championship win over Wake Forest and are also crestfallen when they realize they were 11-2 with losses to Central Michigan and Miami, both at home. If they win those two chippies, they’re in the playoff.
There were some who screamed that Notre Dame should somehow replace Georgia after the Bulldogs imploded in the SEC Championship, but that was just honkery. Georgia gave up 83 points in 12 regular season games and was 5-0 against teams that were ranked at the time, including Clemson in the opener. Notre Dame beat two ranked teams.
Alabama beat five ranked teams, won an SEC West that serves as college football’s toughest minefield, and only lost at Texas A&M by three points.
The Big Ten East is similar, and Michigan beat Ohio State and Penn State and only lost to Michigan State by four.
The SEC has two teams in the playoff for the second time. That seems about right. There were many reasons, perhaps 100 million, for Lincoln Riley to become USC’s coach, but one was Oklahoma’s avaricious decision to bolt the Big 12 for the SEC.
There was no reason for Oklahoma to butt heads with the SEC West, particularly when the Sooners would have to recruit in SEC territory, a place they have no roots or clear advantage.
There was no cultural connection either. Why should Oklahoma be in the same league with Florida or Kentucky, especially when it affects thriving secondary sports like baseball and volleyball?
This might become an issue if and when TCU and Houston join the Pac-12, but Oklahoma’s SEC move was a fait accompli, and coaches like Riley don’t get much input.
Meanwhile, college football moves on without a solid expansion plan. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said that it isn’t likely a plan will be approved by 2024, and the CFP contract expires in 2025. Any change must be approved by 10 conference commissioners and Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick.
That’s good news for those who believe in the best regular season in sports and were riveted on Nov. 27 by 10 hours of Ohio State-Michigan, Alabama-Auburn and Oklahoma-Oklahoma State.
A 12-team playoff format would have robbed all those games of their underlying juice and turn college football into college basketball, where the only really crucial day is Selection Sunday.
This way, every game really does count, and the season is a 12-game tightrope.
Meanwhile, the Big 12 is expanding by four teams. One is Cincinnati, no later than July of 2024.
More Power-Five to the Bearcats. They lived the American dream.