Cincinnati Looks Safe but Chaos Looms for College Football Playoff

Morgan MoriartyFeatured Columnist INovember 24, 2021

CINCINNATI, OHIO - NOVEMBER 20: Desmond Ridder #9 of the Cincinnati Bearcats runs with the ball in the second quarter against the SMU Mustangs at Nippert Stadium on November 20, 2021 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The College Football Playoff rankings after Week 12 were unveiled on Tuesday night. With a little under two weeks before Selection Sunday, there are just a couple more chances left for teams to make an impression on the committee. Here's a look at the top of the rankings leading up to Rivalry Weekend:

1. Georgia (11-0)
2. Ohio State (10-1)
3. Alabama (10-1)
4. Cincinnati (11-0)
5. Michigan (10-1)
6. Notre Dame (10-1)
7. Oklahoma State (10-1) 
8. Baylor (9-2)

The most noteworthy change is Cincinnati finally making it into the Top Four after weeks of appearing to have doubtful CFP hopes. The Bearcats had an impressive 48-14 win over SMU last week, the Mustangs entering that game 8-2. If Cincy wins the AAC title game against a currently 10-1 Houston team on Dec. 4, it's likely that the Bearcats will get a spot. 

This would be historically significant, as it would be the first time in playoff history that a Group of Five team has made it in. 

Speaking of history, the Bearcats' No. 4 ranking is now the highest CFP ranking for a Group of Five team. How awesome is that? Keep in mind last season, Cincy hung tough with Georgia in the Peach Bowl, losing 24-21 on a field goal in the final seconds. If the playoff were to start tomorrow, we'd get a Bearcats-Bulldogs matchup in the first round. 

But there is plenty of room for chaos to happen over the next two weeks. For starters, let's look ahead at the SEC Championship Game between No. 1 Georgia and No. 3 Alabama. If Alabama defeats Georgia, both teams would likely make it into the final four. 

But before then, No. 2 Ohio State gets its biggest test, facing No. 5 Michigan on the road. If the Buckeyes win and follow it with a victory in the Big Ten title game, they are obviously in. Same goes for Michigan, if it defeats Ohio State. But what happens if, say, Michigan or Ohio State gets upset in the Big Ten Championship Game? 

That would open the door for a Big 12 champion to make it in. No. 7 Oklahoma State and No. 10 Oklahoma (10-1) play this weekend, and the conference's best chance of getting a playoff team is to have the winner of this game also win the Big 12 title game. If OU wins, there would be a rematch at AT&T Stadium. If Oklahoma State wins, the Sooners will need Texas Tech to defeat Baylor to earn a spot over the Bears, who defeated Oklahoma on Nov. 13.  

But now comes the big question: If Alabama beats Georgia, the Big Ten produces a one-loss champion and Oklahoma State wins out—representing the worst-case scenario for the Bearcats—would Cincinnati get jumped by the Pokes for the No. 4 spot in the final CFP rankings? If Cincy keeps winning big like it has the last couple of weeks, the Bearcats are probably safe inside the Top Four on the strength of their road win over Notre Dame. If Oklahoma State was ranked higher than No. 7 this week, that might be a different story. 

And then there's No. 6 Notre Dame, which has been moving up in the rankings week after week. There is also a scenario for the Fighting Irish to make it in if, say, Cincinnati was to be upset in the AAC Championship Game or at East Carolina this week. 

There's still a lot that can happen this weekend and next in the conference championship games. Chaos hasn't happened much in playoff history. But given that we've already seen a number of upsets this year, this might be the season that chaos reigns.