No one knows exactly which team the College Football Playoff committee prefers among the “Group of Five” conferences not in consideration to be named a participant in one of the playoff slots.
In the new system, the best team from the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West Conference or the Sun Belt Conference is granted an automatic berth into one of the New Year’s Bowls.
Cincinnati tried to help its case Thursday when the national spotlight was shining brightly. But the Bearcats’ 54-46 victory didn’t come without its share of drama.
First and foremost, the win by Tommy Tuberville‘s squad gave the program a 4-1 record in the American, which is tied with the Memphis Tigers. Cincinnati is 6-3 overall with losses to Ohio State, Miami and Memphis.
However, an exciting offensive team like Cincinnati could prove to be enticing for the committee.
The Bearcats amassed 586 total yards Thursday. Quarterback Gunner Kiel was 29-of-44 passing for 436 yards and four touchdowns. Kiel connected with wide receiver Mekale McCoy nine times for 172 yards.
When Cincinnati needed the offense to move the ball quickly late in the game, Kiel marched the Bearcats 35 yards in 47 seconds to set up the 47-yard game-winning field goal by kicker Andrew Gantz.
It was the previous drive which presented problems for Cincinnati, though. Those problems should have cost the Bearcats the game due to poor decision-making.
As Cincinnati attempted to run out the clock with a 45-40 lead, Tuberville decided it was a good idea to attempt a quarterback option to seal the game. Kiel isn’t much of a running quarterback. The play ended miserably as the pitch fell to the ground and East Carolina recovered.
To make matters worse, Cincinnati appeared to have stopped East Carolina on the ensuing drive only to be called for pass interference in the end zone. Pirates quarterback Shane Carden eventually capitalized with a two-year touchdown dive.
Despite all of that, the Bearcats still found a way to win in the end.
Was it enough to make them the favorite to emerge out of the “Group of Five?” Probably not. East Carolina may have been the favorite to claim this honor earlier in the season with a strong national ranking, but the Pirates lost their last two games.
Meanwhile, the undefeated Marshall Thundering Herd is still looming just outside the Top 25. Memphis maintains an edge over Cincinnati due to their head-to-head meeting. Finally, Georgia Southern also remains undefeated in the Sun Belt with two losses coming in tight games against North Carolina State and Georgia Tech.
Thursday’s game just proved to be another entertaining contest where neither team really put their best foot forward.