Sep 28, 2013; Orlando, FL, USA; UCF Knights wide receiver Rannell Hall (6) scores a touchdown during the second half of the game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Bright House Networks Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports

Cincinnati's Road To A Major Bowl Game Not As Easy As Once Thought

Nov 9, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats head coach Tommy Tuberville leads his team onto the field before the game against the Southern Methodist Mustangs at Nippert Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Leifheit-USA TODAY Sports

The most updated BCS Rankings were released yesterday with the usual suspects Alabama and Florida State filling out the top-2 spots as they have been for the last several weeks. But the most intriguing portion are the teams in the middle of the top-25 ranking; Louisville, Fresno State, UCF, and Northern Illinois. These are the teams in the so-called “Group of Five” conferences. While these BCS Rankings will be defunct in a few months time, I was a bit concerned by the hierarchy as set up by the current system:

  • #14: Fresno State (9-0)
  • #15: Northern Illinois (9-0)
  • #17: UCF (7-1)
  • #20: Louisville (7-1)

The reason this bothers me is because under the new college football playoff system that will begin for the 2014 season, only one team from the Group of Five would be selected to play in a major bowl (Cotton, Fiesta, or Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl). The team that’s chosen will be the highest ranked G5 school and if the new postseason system began this year Fresno State would be that team. A school from the American Athletic Conference would be left out in the cold.

It was assumed by many, myself included, that AAC teams like UCF, Houston, and most relevant to all of us Cincinnati would have a leg up on teams in the Mountain West and MAC in the rankings. That just doesn’t seem to be the case. Under the current scenario, an undefeated Fresno State or Northern Illinois are still favored in the polls over a one-loss Central Florida even though the Knights beat 8th ranked Louisville and Penn State. The only blemish on their record is a close loss to 12th ranked South Carolina.

And at the end of the day this is why I truly loathe the AAC over what the Big East provided the Bearcats. While a national punchline, the Big East at least offered their teams an automatic spot in a major bowl game. That’s no longer guaranteed. The BCS system will be gone in less than a year and at that point the gap between the Power Five conferences and everybody else will become a reality. Then Cincinnati will really feel like they’re on the outside looking in.

That’s the fear I have with prolonged membership in the AAC. If the rankings above are any indication, a team from the MAC, in this case Northern Illinois, can roll through their schedule of weak conference opponents to an undefeated record and be ranked higher than a one-loss AAC team. That’s a problem for a team like Cincinnati that, on an annual basis, plays a more difficult slate of conference opponents* than the Huskies. If the Bearcats slip up once that could basically end all of their hopes for a major bowl bid, unlike in the Big East where all they had to do was win the conference. The 8-4 UConn team in 2010 can tell you all about how advantageous that situation was.

*This year aside, obviously. Who would have thought Temple, UConn, and USF would be this bad?

Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. Maybe I’m making too much out of a minor trend. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time. But the fear is there and just the fact that perception plays a big part in college football rankings (Hi, Michigan!) means that teams in the AAC, no matter how good or how strong their schedules are, will be lumped together with those in the MAC and Mountain West. That’s not to say some of those teams like Fresno State or Northern Illinois haven’t played well this year but their slate of opponents doesn’t even begin to approach what UCF has faced. That’s the main issue I have with the AAC and is why Cincinnati needs to pray the Big 12 or ACC throws them a rope.

Tags: AAC Bearcats

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