How COVID-19 Helped and Hurt the Bearcats Chances for a CFP Bid

The Bearcats came into the season with some high expectations, starting this season at #20, the highest preseason ranking for a Bearcat team ever.  Going into their second consecutive AAC Title Game and having reached the highest ranking for a Group of 5 school in the College Football Playoff poll, the Bearcats had a shot to crack into the playoffs, that is of course, until the CFP Committee showed their hand on 12/8/2020.

How it Started:

Fresh off their second consecutive 11 win season and a bowl game blowout vs. Boston College, the Cats took a jump to #13 before their season opener against Austin Peay.  The COVID-19 Pandemic was causing chaos in college football and allowed the Bearcats to take a big jump as the Big 10 and Pac-12 decided to postpone their seasons.  A 55-20 blow out against Austin Peay followed by a 24-10 against Army had the AP and Coach’s Poll voters second guessing the Bearcats, as they fell to #15 before a matchup against USF and the Bearcats went into their BYE week ranked #11 in both of the polls.

The first Tulsa postponement, at the behest of Tulsa’s President, due to a couple positive cases in the Bearcats program was the start of Cincinnati’s COVID-19 troubles.  An over abundance of caution by Tulsa due to a couple true freshman testing positive after a weekend at the cesspool of Oxford ultimately cost the Bearcats a game and likely a win.  They managed to move up in the polls to #9/#10 going into a match-up against SMU.  At that point, the Bearcats looked solid, especially on defense, but the two week layover got the offense humming.  The Bearcats proceeded to beat #16 SMU, Memphis, Houston, and  ECU like the TD drum on the sideline before the pivotal match-up on their schedule.  A road game at UCF, which changed the course of the season.

How it’s Going:

The Bearcats played a back and forth game against the #1 offense in the NCAA, leaving Orlando with a 36-33 victory.  Rumors started floating about a cancellation with Temple, as early as the day after the UCF game.  Temple had their own issues, including players opting out, injuries, but the trip to Orlando brought the Bearcats back into their own COVID-19 Crisis.  That week, the first College Football Playoff rankings came out, the Bearcats were ranked #7, one spot behind their place in the AP and Coach’s Polls.  It was a shock to many, as the CFP has shown to have little respect for the schools that aren’t in the Autonomous 5 conferences.  They became the highest ranked team from the Group of 5 ever.

 

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The Bearcats game against Temple got cancelled that Wednesday.  The American had already rescheduled the December 5th game against Tulsa to the 12th and rumors were swirling about the Bearcats and BYU playing a game on December 5th.  The outbreak in the Cincinnati program continued to get worse, and that game against BYU couldn’t happen.  BYU got destroyed by the CFP playoff committee and eventually by the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, and their dreams of being in a NY6 bowl drifted away.  Word got around that the COVID-19 situation at Cincinnati was not great.  That trip to Central Florida caused spread through the program.  According to BearcatJournal’s Chad Brendel on a recent podcast, over 70 players, coaches, and support staff had tested positive along with all of the contact tracing, it was going to make return to play difficult.

The Bearcats continued to be ranked #7, looking forward to the first match-up against #24 CFP Ranked Tulsa.  Both teams had punched their ticket to the American title game and they were going to have two weeks in a row to see who would come home with the AAC Title.  The winner of round 1 would host the AAC Championship game on 12/19 on ABC, stakes were high, then the Conference stepped in.  Round 1, a game that had been postponed twice already, would be cancelled.  With no reason to play, other than deciding home field advantage, and possibly screwing themselves out of a NY6 bowl game, the AAC Medical Board said UC could not meet the Return to Play protocols set by the Conference and sent the championship game to Nippert Stadium on 12/19 on ABC.

Bearcat fans took another devastating blow on Tuesday night when the CFP Committee showed their hand and dropped the Bearcats to #8 behind a two loss Iowa State team.  The path to the playoff went from “So you’re telling me there’s a chance” to “Cincinnati is getting fucked” as Pat McAfee said.  A Saturday night choke job by Florida to a terrible LSU team would have been cause to celebrate, but instead Bearcat fans have to hang their hat on the original goal for the season, a NY6 Bowl game.

The CFP Committee’s decision to drop the Bearcats this week generated a lot of publicity for the Bearcats, arguing for expansion of the playoffs to let a deserving team like Cincinnati in.  The Bearcats now know, barring a catastrophe in the top 7, their destination is likely in the Peach Bowl, hopefully against an A5 opponent.  To my fellow Bearcat fans, I urge you to remember the goal for this season.  It was always to get Luke Fickell’s first Conference Title and to go to a New Year’s 6 Bowl Game.  Now let’s take care of business on Saturday against Tulsa and punch our ticket to our first big bowl game since the Sugar Bowl!

Juncta Juvant

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