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CFP selection committee discounts American Athletic Conference

Managing Editor Zach Short discusses how Cincinnati Bearcats presently fall short of a Playoffs spot, despite having a lossless season with huge margins of victory.

On Tuesday, Nov. 2, The College Football Playoffs (CFP) selection committee released its first official look into where teams stand. The top four teams, who would comprise the Playoffs bracket if it began today, have the undefeated Georgia on top as expected. The next three spots, however, stir more controversy. Alabama sits second despite having lost to the now middle-ranked Texas A&M Aggies. Michigan State, also undefeated, sits at third, with Oregon as the bottom seed, having lost only to unranked Stanford in an overtime situation.

The surprise comes in the stark contrast presented against the AP Poll rankings. Flawlessness seems the easiest prerequisite to enter into Playoffs contention.The AP Poll seems to agree, placing three undefeated teams into its own top four with Georgia first, Cincinnati second and Oklahoma fourth. The CFP, though, disagrees. Their rankings pushed Cincinnati down to sixth and Oklahoma to eighth. They pulled Michigan State up from the AP’s fifth place, which would replace Oklahoma, but supplanted further by adding Oregon and ditching Cincinnati.

Most of these moves reflect the perceived strength of schedule. Alabama merits its place in both rankings by playing a difficult conference schedule and losing only to another Top 25 team. The SEC is college football’s most competitive conference and the only one who could hope to take two spots in the Playoffs this year, with Georgia as its other present contender.

Other conferences, however, can vary more from year to year and compete more evenly with one another. The PAC-12 holding Oregon and the Big 10 with Michigan State can both boast competitive conferences. Both last year’s bracket as well as the year before’s held Ohio State out of the Big 10. Yet, these rankings also show the ephemerality of a conference’s hold on one of these spots. Last year included Clemson and Notre Dame from the ACC, with Clemson also appearing the year before, but this year sees neither poll predicting an ACC appearance.

The question then turns to why the CFP excluded Cincinnati. The AAC has not had a team yet appear in the Playoffs since the postseason bracket’s 2014 inception. In fact, all but four bracket selections ever came as champions of Power Five conferences—the conferences considered the best among all of college football—and these four exceptions still came from within the Power Five.

These conferences do tend to compete at a higher level, but the problem now seems to lie in the CFP’s exclusivity toward them. Cincinnati has yet to lose a game, winning by an average margin of 25.6 points through their first eight games. And they have also beaten Notre Dame, ranked 10 by the CFP and appearing in two of the last three brackets.

Selection for the Playoffs seems to deny schools from outside of the Power 5. Cincinnati has won every game by a touchdown or more, with their closest matchup ending at a difference of seven points. Even that game against Navy, though, included allowing ten points and scoring none in the fourth quarter when they could afford to do so. They entered the final quarter of that game leading 27-10 with command of the game. At no point during the season has losing seemed possible for Cincinnati.

Appearing in the bracket therefore seems impossible for Cincinnati. With only four games remaining, they will face only one AP Top 25 team in SMU, but the CFP dropped them entirely from its own rankings. It remains possible that Cincinnati defeats each opponent it faces across the whole season by a good margin and still misses the Playoffs.

The bias toward the Power 5 appears indomitable for the AAC power. Only twice has a team from the PAC-12 made the bracket, but the conference’s placement within the Power 5 still carries weight. This year, Oregon looks to take a place from Cincinnati through this preferential treatment. They have lost a game where Cincinnati has not, worse yet to unranked Stanford who sits at the bottom of Oregon’s own North division. Playing in the weaker conference has crippled Cincinnati and perhaps become the only obstacle between them and a Playoffs appearance.

The rankings are not final, and Cincinnati still retains the chance to make the Playoffs. however, this lack of confidence sends a message to many. If Cincinnati’s season thus far does not put them in a spot to compete for a national title, then the remainder of their season seems unlikely to push them into contention.

Post Author: Zach Short