A college football season that has seen its fair share of chaos nine weeks in figured to make for one of the more intriguing playoff races down the stretch, and yet it was simply more of the same when the initial College Football Playoff rankings came out Tuesday night.
One of the biggest surprises came when Cincinnati, who was ranked #2 in the AP poll entering the week, came in at six. Ahead of them are Ohio State at five, Oregon at four, Michigan State at three and Alabama at two. While all these teams certainly deserve to be in the mix, it was not expected that they would all jump Cincinnati. At least not right away, at least.
By slotting the undefeated Bearcats, whose resume includes a road win at #8 Notre Dame, at sixth, the selection committee made one thing abundantly clear: they never had a fighting chance to begin with.
Since the inception of the current playoff format, eleven schools have combined to comprise the field, all from power five conferences. With the Bearcats sitting at 8-0 coming off a 31-12 victory over Tulane, many assumed they would be a safe bet for one of the top four spots in the first round of the rankings. Until they were not.
With the race for conference championship positioning starting to heat up, every win matters for the teams jockeying for positioning in the polls. For the Bearcats, winning out obviously remains imperative, but the committee did them no favors by leaving the rest of the American Athletic Conference unranked. Their impending matchup with SMU in two weeks suddenly is less noteworthy than it would have been previously when the Mustangs were featured in the AP Top 25.
Unless Houston claws its way into the CFP rankings, a potential conference championship game clash also does not have quite the same luster that a meeting between two ranked teams would have. This is not meant to take away from what SMU and Houston have done this season, but the point here is less chances at top 25 wins equals less opportunity to show why the Bearcats should move up.
As currently constructed, the College Football Playoff is designed to exclude group of five schools regardless of what they have done. Simply put, if you are not power five, you are not getting in. Mississippi State went from being unranked in the AP to number 17 in the CFP rankings. The Bulldogs jumping up to 17 is just one example of the committee’s clear bias towards power five schools. Just to refresh, Mississippi State's schedule features a loss to a 4-4 Memphis squad and a one point win against a 2-5 Louisiana Tech team.
On the night the rankings were released, the Bearcats were a heavy talkingpoint of the show. When talking to an analyst, ideas of winning margins and "quality" wins were thrown around to dispute Cincinnati's potential top four ranking. Yet a Mississippi State team with horrid losses – and yes, Memphis is a horrid loss this season – and narrow wins over undisputed bad teams sits in the center of the CFP rankings.
All of those losses and an undefeated UTSA, who beat Memphis, was not included in the poll at all.
Without some form of expansion, things will not change either. It is a broken system that does not reward everyone equally and it will remain that way until some sort of change is made. An expanded field feels like the most obvious solution, but even then they would still just likely be clearing the way for more undeserving power five teams to take spots away from group of five schools.
All season long, Cincinnati seemed poised to be the first non-power five team to earn a spot in the playoff. By slotting them at sixth in their first round rankings, the selection committee is making it clear they never had a chance to begin with.
Memphis quarterback Brady White throws downfield while avoiding a Cincinnati defender. The Tigers ended the game with a hefty 49-10 loss.