Saturday, January 16

Despite loss to Georgia, Cincinnati validates Group of 5 spot in eight-team playoff debate



How many times do you need to watch it?

No. 9 Georgia beat No. 8 Cincinnati 24-21 on a 53-yard field goal by Jack Poles in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on New Year’s Day. It was an exciting game of bowling, but it only added fuel to the ongoing debate over Group 5 in the college football playoff setup.

Cincinnati (9-1) lost heartbreaking at another “almost” moment. The Bearcats nearly joined UCF (2017) as the second team from the American Athletic Conference team to go undefeated in four seasons. Georgia (8-2) won the game, but that game raised more questions about the playoff expansion.

MORE: College Football Playoff Schedule: What You Need to Know

The Bearcats almost became the fourth Group of 5 team to win a New Years Day Six Bowl: Boise State beat Arizona at the 2014 Fiesta Bowl and Houston beat Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl in 2015. UCF, of course, completed an undefeated season with a win against Auburn in 2017.

” We didn’t realize we were hosting two national championship games in Atlanta that year,” Peach Bowl CEO Gary Spoken told Sporting News this week. “UCF declared itself the national champion when it defeated Auburn at the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bow. Then, Alabama beat Georgia in the CFP national playoff championship.”

That was the best-case scenario for New Year’s Day Six bowling in Atlanta, and Friday’s game between Georgia and Cincinnati offered a different twist. Georgia won the game, but Cincinnati proved they belonged. This was a fun sixth New Year’s Day game, but it would have been so much better as a national quarterfinal.

At some point, we’ll have to combine those two, and 2020 provided another opportunity. The committee could have put the Bearcats on the four-team CFP, but instead chose to turn up the motivational speakers during a New Years Day Six bowl.

The same thing happened at the Cotton Bowl between Oklahoma and Florida, but that included two Power 5 teams. The Bulldogs were missing five players who opted out of the game, but the Bearcats also had some excuses built in. Cincinnati played without leading running back Ger rid Docks, and star defender Ahmad Gardner left the game with back spasms. Tackle James Hudson was sent off for aiming in the first half.

Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell will not use those excuses.

The Bearcats were the best team for three quarters against the Bulldogs. Desmond Ridder completed 15 of 22 passes for 170 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, including an 11-yard touchdown pass to Josh While with six seconds left before halftime. Jerome Ford opened the third quarter with a 79-yard touchdown run to open a 21-10 lead.

Georgia, which averaged 188.6 rushing yards in the regular season, finished with 45 rushing yards on 24 attempts. The Bulldogs committed two turnovers and JT Daniels was harassed by the Cincinnati defense.

The Bulldogs rallied in the fourth quarter. Georgia cut the lead to 21-19 and suppressed the Bearcats’ offense, and the game was reduced to a thrilling finale between two outstanding defenses. Fickell made some questionable decisions down the stretch, and it cost the Bearcats. Daniels led the winning series, which Poles finished with a clutch kick.

Cincinnati nearly became the ninth team in a powerless conference to end an undefeated season since the BCE era. The Nona failed to break the BCS championship. The G5 can’t do the CFP. It’s time for a new authorization code.

Look at the other teams. Tulane (1998) and Marshall (1999) did not get an expensive bowl. Utah (2004, 2008) and TCU (2010) used those seasons to jump to Power 5.

That leaves Boise State (2006, 2009) and UCF (2017), both of which weren’t given a chance.

Cincinnati provided the latest evidence, but even in defeat, the debate will not go away. We know that those teams can compete in an eight-team format. We have seen it too many times in a consolation setting to enhance that belief.

At some point, the expansion will triumph, and games like this are proof why that’s not so bad for college football. If the 2020 college football season teaches us anything, it’s that the sport can thrive in impossible circumstances, but there is always room for improvement.

Start planning a more inclusive playoff format now.

The results will speak for themselves.



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