The footsteps are getting louder. Cincinnati is almost able to start knocking on the College Football Playoff door.
Yes, the Bearcats didn’t easily put away Navy last week and critics may cite that come December when the four invitations are handed out for the semifinals. However, the likelihood of them getting left out after an unbeaten season is growing smaller by the day.
Oklahoma State’s loss leaves one undefeated team in the Big 12. That team, Oklahoma, still faces its three toughest games of the season and has been less-than-inspiring for most of the year, especially last week in a too-close-for-comfort win against Kansas. Wake Forest is unbeaten in the ACC and faces a backloaded schedule, like the Sooners. Alabama looked shaky at home against Tennessee, causing some unease about how it will fare in the expected matchup with Georgia in the SEC title game.
So what does this all mean for Cincinnati? Even with the Bearcats at No. 2 in the poll, they’ll need some help to make the field. The SEC and Big Ten champion are going to be ahead of them without some wild results. Should Alabama beat Georgia in Atlanta, they’d fall to fourth because the Bulldogs are going to be in the field unless they’re upset before then.
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Cincinnati’s resume will stack up well with one-loss champions from the Power Five, which is why the fate of Oklahoma and Wake Forest and the SEC title game are so important. If two from the group of the Sooners, Demon Deacons and Crimson Tide lose, the Bearcats will be in a strong position as long as they hold serve. The way things are going, that seems more and more possible. Just not ready to predict that yet.
The significant changes this week come from the New Year’s Six spots. Penn State, Utah and North Carolina State all fall out. Moving in are Mississippi, Oregon and Pittsburgh.
Reminder: Notre Dame is part of the ACC bowl pool. Some conferences may not fulfill their bowl allotment. Asterisks denote a replacement pick.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football bowl projections: Cincinnati’s playoff case growing