Historic Playoff: Alabama-Cincinnati, Michigan-Georgia | Honolulu Star Advertiser
IRVING, Texas >> As the college football postseason moved from segregated bowls to the BCS to the current four-team playoffs, it has never really embraced the underdog like the NCAA tournament.
From Tulane to Utah, from Boise State to TCU and then UCF, the upstart had the occasional chance to play blue blood in a Big Bowl game, but they never went into the postseason with a legitimate opportunity to win a national championship.
College football finally has its first Cinderella team: Cincinnati has broken through the glass ceiling.
The Bearcats will play against Alabama at the Cotton Bowl on New Years Eve, having been selected for the College Football Playoffs today. Michigan will face Georgia in the Orange Bowl semi-finals on December 31, and the winners will play for the national championship in Indianapolis on January 10.
Cincinnati, seeded fourth, is the first team to reach the CFP from a non-power five conference in the eight-year history of this postseason format. The Bearcats (13-0) won the American Athletic Conference and are the only undefeated team in the country to go into the postseason.
âIt’s a historic day. It’s really. Thatâs history in the world of sport, âsaid AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco. “This is something that probably many, many people never thought they would see.”
Before that, no team at a so-called Group of Five conference had even come close to the playoffs.
“We don’t want to carry the flag for the not big schools, so to speak, we just want to be ourselves,” said Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell.
When the Bowl Championship Series began in 1998, Tulane was unbeaten in Conference USA and didn’t even get a spot in any of the glittering bowl games. Former Tulane President Scott Cowen was one of the first to attack the BCS as an exclusive cartel.
Under then-coach Urban Meyer, Utah remained undefeated as a member of Mountain West in 2004 and reached the Fiesta Bowl, but was only allowed to play against a mixed Pittsburgh team, which meant the Utes had no chance of finishing number 1.
Boise State branded itself as a potential BCS buster during his time in the Western Athletic Conference, winning a notable Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma in 2007. TCU was at Mountain West when it won a Rose Bowl against Wisconsin in 2010.
Utah and TCU were eventually caught up in Power Five conferences. If you can’t beat them, ask them to join you.
The playoffs doubled the number of teams with a chance for the national title from two to four in 2014, but it didn’t seem to help the little ones.
UCF won 25 games in a row in 2017 and ’18 and never finished eighth on the selection committee’s ranking. The Knights even went so far as to declare themselves national champions after being the only team in great college football to end the 2017 unbeaten season.
Cincinnati laid the groundwork for this year’s run by going undefeated in the regular season last year before losing to Georgia in the Peach Bowl.
Aresco admitted that this run was bittersweet for him at times. Cincinnati, along with UCF and Houston, will soon be leaving the American for the Big 12.
The Bearcats made history with little debate. Playoff selection committee chairman Gary Barta said there was strong consensus for Cincinnati in fourth place ahead of fifth in Notre Dame, which suffered only one loss – at home to the Bearcats in early October. Ohio State finished sixth.
“It’s going to be a real challenge for us in every way, shape and form,” said Alabama coach Nick Saban.
The Bearcats might not have felt so comfortable in the field if things had gone differently in Saturday’s Big 12 championship game. Oklahoma State, ranked 5th on the CFP ladder at the start of the game, stayed just inches from scooping a green touchdown in the final minute after losing to Baylor.
Saban, who found he played at the Mid-American Conference in Kent State, said Cincinnati’s performance was a positive development for the sport.
“I absolutely think anyone who competes in college football Division I should feel like they have the opportunity to get into the playoffs,” said Saban.
It is the third time that two teams have been to the same conference at the CFP and the second time that this has happened at the SEC. Years ago, Alabama beat Georgia in extra time to win the national title.
As the conference leaders are considering expanding the playoffs from four to twelve teams in 2024, only two power five leagues will be represented this season: the SEC and the Big Ten. The Atlantic Coast Conference was missed for the first time. The Big 12 closed for the second year in a row and the Pac-12 will have no team in the playoffs for the sixth time.
The other major bowl games have also been discontinued:
Michigan State (10-2) against ACC Champion Pitt (11-2) at the Peach Bowl on December 30th.
Notre Dame (11-1) vs. Oklahoma State (11-2) at the Fiesta Bowl on January 1st.
Pac-12 Champion Utah (10-3) vs. Ohio State (10-2) at the Rose Bowl on January 1st.
Mississippi (10-2) vs. Baylor (11-2) in the Sugar Bowl on January 1st.
Cincinnati’s reward for making history is a duel with the defending champion at the Dallas Cowboys’ home.
The Crimson Tide is in the playoff for the seventh time after giving Georgia its first setback of the season in the title game of the Southeastern Conference on Saturday.
Alabama (12-1) appeared to be a loss because it was eliminated from the playoffs before the game against Georgia. Instead, Bryce Young and the Tide ignited the Bulldogs’ vaunted defenses to deserve the top seed.
Saban’s Alabama dynasty has won three playoff championships and three BCS titles since 2009.
Georgia (12-1) managed to stay in the field as the third seed and became the second team to lose their Conference title game and reach the playoff. Notre Dame did the same last season when it lost a rematch to Clemson in its only season at the ACC, a move sparked by pandemic change in schedules.
The Bulldogs will have their second CFP appearance when they face runner-up Michigan (12-1) in the Orange Bowl. Coach Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines are in the playoffs for the first time after winning the Big Ten for the first time since 2004. Michigan, which finished 2-4 last season, is also the first team to reach the pre-season AP Top 25 playoff after not ranking in the playoffs.
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