College Football Playoff Rankings Are an Ode to the Power 5

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The rankings showed however overmuch organizers favour the astir almighty teams successful the sport, and they created a hurdle for Cincinnati, which has a marquee triumph and an undefeated record.

Cincinnati backmost   Desmond Riddler was tackled during a crippled  astatine  Tulane connected  Saturday, and his team’s expectations were upended Tuesday nighttime  erstwhile   the archetypal  rankings of the College Football Playoff were released.
Credit...Stephen Lew/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

Billy Witz

Nov. 3, 2021Updated 2:14 p.m. ET

If the Cincinnati Bearcats were a cartoon character, they mightiness beryllium Charlie Brown: enthusiastically moving up to footwear the shot lone to person Lucy propulsion it distant astatine the past infinitesimal and landing — erstwhile again — connected his backmost with a thud.

The programme that Luke Fickell, the erstwhile Ohio State assistant, has meticulously built seemed to person risen to conscionable a infinitesimal connected Tuesday nighttime erstwhile the College Football Playoff committee announced its archetypal rankings of teams vying for a spot successful a four-team playoff that begins connected Dec. 31 astatine the Orange Bowl and Cotton Bowl.

The Bearcats, who play successful the American Athletic Conference, are trying to go the archetypal squad extracurricular the constitution — the Southeastern, Big 12, Pac-12, Big Ten and Atlantic Coast conferences on with Notre Dame, an autarkic — to ace the playoff since it began successful 2014. They person ambitions of being the archetypal outsiders to triumph a rubric since Brigham Young successful 1984.

Cincinnati has a stout defense, led by Darrian Beavers, a semifinalist for the Butkus Award arsenic the nation’s apical linebacker, and a potent offense, led by Desmond Ridder, a savvy and shifty quarterback. Both are fifth-year seniors and their dependable improvement has mirrored the program’s rise.

The Bearcats are unbeaten this season, astatine 8-0, including a decisive 24-13 triumph astatine Notre Dame, which snapped the Irish’s 26-game location winning streak. They had climbed each the mode to No. 2 successful The Associated Press Top 25 poll. And arsenic if to corroborate that they are not interlopers, galore of these immoderate players stay from a twelvemonth agone erstwhile the Bearcats’ lone nonaccomplishment during a play shortened due to the fact that of the coronavirus pandemic was successful a vessel crippled to Georgia — this year’s No. 1-ranked squad — connected a last-second, 53-yard tract goal.

But erstwhile the 13-person committee — made up of assemblage administrators, erstwhile coaches, erstwhile players, a businessman and a erstwhile sportswriter — revealed its archetypal rankings, it was arsenic if Lucy had yanked the shot away. Thud. Cincinnati landed sixth. Three one-loss teams were ahead: Alabama (second), Oregon (fourth) and Ohio State (fifth). Also successful beforehand of Cincinnati was unbeaten Michigan State (third).

“It’s fundamentally a P-5 invitational,” Mike Aresco, the A.A.C. commissioner, said successful a telephone interrogation connected Tuesday night, referring to the Power 5 conferences. “If Alabama was successful our league and won each their games, bash you deliberation they would beryllium ranked sixth? I don’t deliberation so.”

There is ever going to beryllium thing to quibble astir with a process that is truthful subjective and absent immoderate benignant of transparency. There is nary consciousness of what benignant of statement goes connected successful the country implicit 2 days of hashing retired a apical 25 — lone the committee chairman, Gary Barta, the Iowa diversion director, is permitted to code the media. Rarely is the president illuminating.

In ample part, this stirring of the cookware is an indispensable constituent successful assemblage shot — nary antithetic from erstwhile Miami and Washington, and Colorado and Georgia Tech divided nationalist championships successful the ’90s; erstwhile Colorado obliterated Nebraska and was near retired of the rubric crippled successful favour of the Cornhuskers successful the aboriginal 2000s; oregon erstwhile Alabama got a rematch with Louisiana State astir a decennary ago.

Controversy is bully for the brand, and truthful are the marque names. (Don’t underestimate the invisible manus of ESPN — which has the broadcast rights to the playoff and the play uncover amusement implicit the adjacent 5 weeks — successful influencing the semifinal matchups.)

That whitethorn assistance explicate wherefore Alabama, with its title pedigree and a nonaccomplishment astatine Texas A&M, was slotted astatine No. 2, leaving unfastened the anticipation that a respectable nonaccomplishment to Georgia could marque the Crimson Tide the archetypal squad to scope the playoff with 2 defeats.

Barta said the Alabama determination was not difficult. “It was a beardown consensus,” helium said.

That Cincinnati was ranked No. 2 successful the polls was immaterial, said Barta, who added that the Bearcats didn’t person immoderate important victories too Notre Dame and that they had played lackluster shot for the past 2 weeks successful victories implicit two-win Navy and one-win Tulane.

That appraisal is surely true. But it’s besides not a modular to which others are held.

The Bearcats don’t play successful a league with the play rigors of the SEC oregon the Big Ten. But they had beaten Indiana much decisively than Michigan State had (Michigan State needed to rally to triumph successful the 4th quarter). Cincinnati besides defeated Miami (Ohio) acold much forcefully than Minnesota, which is starring the Big Ten’s West division. And that sluggish triumph astatine Tulane was acold much comfy than Oklahoma’s location triumph implicit the Green Wave, which wasn’t assured until a last-gasp backmost scramble connected fourth-and-13 came up a ft short.

All of this does pb 1 to wonderment however overmuch of a spread determination truly is betwixt the A.A.C. and the champion teams successful the country. Memphis, a middling squad successful the American Athletic, bushed Mississippi State, which is ranked 17th by the enactment committee. Tulsa, different pedestrian A.A.C. squad that visits Cincinnati connected Saturday, was starring successful the 4th fourth astatine Oklahoma State, which is ranked 11th. It was besides wrong 27-20 and threatening successful the 4th fourth astatine Ohio State earlier being turned back.

So, with Southern Methodist and Houston being unranked — some one-loss teams that could bolster Cincinnati’s ledger successful the adjacent period — the champion accidental for the Bearcats to ascent into the apical 4 without being leapfrogged themselves is to support stacking up victories, look bully doing it and anticipation for chaos each astir them.

“What you consciousness is frustration,” said Aresco, a erstwhile subordinate of the enactment committee, arsenic helium became progressively exasperated implicit the phone. “We benignant of tally into the aforesaid issues. I don’t deliberation there’s capable nuance. I don’t deliberation our champion teams are fixed capable recognition for however bully they are. Cincinnati is simply a bully squad and proved it, conscionable similar Houston did and conscionable similar Central Florida did.”

Houston finished 13-1 and ranked eighth successful 2015. Central Florida won 26 successful a enactment successful 2017 and 2018 but ne'er roseate higher than seventh successful the committee’s rankings. Neither of them had the benignant of marquee regular-season triumph that Cincinnati had astatine Notre Dame.

“It’s similar the extremity posts determination each time,” helium said. “There’s a batch of things that don’t marque sense.”

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