Cincinnati Bearcats Primed To Be First Group Of 5 Team To Crash The College Football Playoff

No team outside the Power 5 conferences have made it into the semifinals at season’s end since the inception of the College Football Playoff in 2014. That could change this season, as the Cincinnati Bearcats look like the team to end the drought.

The following teams have participated in it at least one college playoff tournament: 

Alabama (6), Clemson (6), Ohio State (4), Oklahoma (4), Notre Dame (2), UGA (1), Oregon (1), FSU (1), Michigan State (1), LSU (1), Washington (1). All from the SEC, ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 12 and one Independent (ND).

Rise Of The Little Guys

The Group of 5 Conferences (American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, Mid-American Conference, Mountain West Conference, and Sun Belt Conference ) have had no chance of infiltrating the brand-name playoffs in past years. The 2017 UCF Knights believed they were overlooked for the CFP after finishing as one of just four undefefeated teams.

UCF even called themselves national champions. But they didn’t ultimately deserve a bid and their weak conference, plus lack of quality opponents, proved that. When Alabama, Miami and Wisconsin are the other teams, committee members aren’t selecting a program from the American Athleteic Conference.

Bearcats Banging With the Big Boys

Led by Heisman candidate Desmond Ridder, a projected NFL first-round pick, the No. 7 Bearcats went into South Bend and knocked off the ninth-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish 24-13 on Saturday.

A Group of Five program soundly defeating a national power brand like ND is a big deal. To do it at Notre Dame Stadium signifies a leap for the Bearcats into elite company. 

Ridder hit on 19 of 32 completions for 297 yards passing. His ability to extend plays with his legs and overcome adversity after a huge fumble in the Bearcats’ own territory, decided the fate of the game.

Head coach Luke Fickell, whose name has been mentioned as a candidate to take over at USC, showed the ultimate confidence in Ridder, and it paid dividends. Ridder led the ’Cats on a 11-play, 75 yard-drive. He culminated it with a 6-yard touchdown run to put the game away, and secure the program’s biggest win ever. 

Brian Kelly Was Looking In The Mirror

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly held the same position at Cincinnati from 2006 to 2009 prior to taking over at ND. He went 34-6, including 17-4 in the Big East. Kelly got to see firsthand how much his former program has grown since his departure. There was no bigger advocate for the potential and upward trajectory of the Bearcats program. 

Winning Recipe: Desmond & Defense

The Bearcats are built on a strong defense that ranks in the top 30 in college football and the brilliance of Ridder at the helm. The defense is masterminded by Fickell, a former Ohio State Buckeyes defensive coordinator. His experience in the Big Ten has influenced his defensive philosophy, as he’s built the big, fast and aggressive Bearcats defense in the mold of a team from that conference. That defense battered and befuddled all three Fighting Irish quarterbacks on Saturday. 

Cracking The Code

When Monday’s AP Top 25 was released the Bearcats made their way to No. 5. The historic win over ND and a loss by No. 3 Oregon at unranked Stanford did the trick. 

The Bearcats will be joining the Big 12 in 2024 along with UCF, Houston and BYU. The program is setting the tone on the recruiting tip and making sure it enters the Big 12 with some healthy respect from its conference rivals. 

Don’t be surprised if these tough, gritty, and well-coached Bearcats break through and crash the CFP party this season.

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