Last Friday was an odd spot to be in for the Cincinnati Bearcats. They had already clinched the American Athletic Conference with a win over Temple two weekends ago, but had to now play on the road at the Memphis Tigers. Both Cincy and Memphis were ranked so it proved to be a big showdown.
The way the AAC played out, this game basically decided who was hosting the rematch the next week, as Memphis had already clinched the West Division.
It can be weird to play the same team twice, especially in back to back weeks. So naturally it seemed that Luke Fickell had to be a bit more selective in his playcalling. He couldn’t use all of his best plays in order to save them for the following week, where the two would play for a more important conference championship. Normal starting quarterback Desmond Ridder didn’t even play, making way for a solid showing by Ben Bryant.
Now, the downside is that Cincy losing meant they would drop in the rankings of the College Football Playoff. The Bearcats are in the mix with three others – the aforementioned Tigers, the name-stay Boise State Broncos from the Mountain West, and the Appalachian State Mountaineers from the Sun Belt – for that Group of 5 New Year’s Six bowl game.
Last week UC came into Tennessee ranked #19, just one spot behind Memphis who was at #18. This shift actually happened just that week – the Bearcats had initially been the higher ranked of the two and of all Group of 5 contenders.
After the 34-24 loss at Memphis last week, the Bearcats dropped in the rankings as expected. Their decrease wasn’t as horrible as one might think though, as UC fell just one spot to #20.
Now Memphis moved up to #17 with the win, while Boise State and Appalachian State moved up with wins as expected.
Here is how #17 to #21 looks heading into this week…
#19 Boise State
#21 Appalachian State
The bad news is that Boise State now jumped the Bearcats and are one slot higher than them heading into the final week. The issue is that the highest Group of 5 team (allegedly that is a conference champ) is the one taken to the New Year’s Six. If Cincy was to upset Memphis, Boise State would be ahead of them with a conference championship as well if they win.
The good news is that Memphis is ranked the highest of all the teams in the Group of 5. Not only are they ranked, but the AAC Championship is now being played in Memphis. Which means…
Cincinnati still may actually have the best chance to make the New Year’s Six along with Memphis.
If the Bearcats beat the Tigers, they will have avenged one of two losses on the season (the other one was to the #1 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes). The committee would have to give a nod to Cincy on that.
Also, should the Bearcats win, it would be a ROAD victory over a RANKED team. That should honestly be enough to keep Cincy over App St and jump Boise even if the Mountaineers and Broncos win. Here’s why.
Boise State plays at home against unranked, four loss Hawaii for the Mountain West championship. The win would give them the conference, but wouldn’t build much on a resume.
Appalachian State plays at home against a two loss, unranked Louisiana squad. The Ragin Cajuns would actually give App State the better boost than Hawaii for Boise State, but top to bottom the Mountain West is probably better than the Sun Belt.
However, if Cincinnati defeats Memphis, that win would be significantly better than the other two. Memphis would have to drop below Cincy because of the head to head loss in this week’s edition of the contest. That would mean that Cincy should stay above App State and move ahead of Boise State and Memphis. They would also be AAC champions. They should get in to the New Year’s Six.
So although things looked bleak after the loss last week, the committee was kind to the Bearcats, understanding that Memphis is really good and who most think are the best of the Group of 5. That may be true, but if Cincy can find a way to win, they should move ahead of the others to claim that prestigious New Year’s Six bowl game.
It’s all laid out for the Bearcats, they simply have to get the job done on the field.
Cincinnati at Memphis is scheduled for a 3:30 kickoff tomorrow on ABC.