IRVING, Texas – Cincinnati has broken the glass ceiling of college football.
The Bearcats will play Alabama in the Cotton Bowl and Michigan will face Georgia on New Year’s Eve in the Orange Bowl, which was selected for the college football playoffs as a historic field of four was scheduled for Sunday. The winners will play for the national championships in Indianapolis on January 10.
Fourth-seeded Cincinnati is the first team from the non-Power Five conference to advance to the CFP. The Bearcats (13–0) won the American Athletic Conference and entered the postseason as the only unbeaten team in the country.
Prior to this, no team from the so-called Group of Five conference had ever come close to making the playoffs. Neither were the two UCF teams unbeaten in the 2017 and ’18 regular seasons, nor Cincinnati last year, when the undefeated only was enough for a Peach Bowl bid against Georgia.
“All year long we’ve tried to avoid saying that we’re carrying the flag (for teams outside the Power Five),” Cincinnati coach Luke Fikel said on ESPN. “I think you can get lost in a lot of things that are going on.”
Bearcats made history with little debate. Playoff selection committee chairman Gary Barta said there was a strong consensus on No. 4 ahead of No. 5 Notre Dame for Cincinnati, having suffered only one loss at home against the Bearcats in early October. Ohio State finished sixth.
Had things been different in Saturday’s Big 12 Championship game, the Bearcats would not have been so comfortable on the field. 5 in the CFP rankings going into the game, inches short of scoring a touchdown to advance in the last minute against Baylor.
Baylor made a goal-line stand to win the Big 12 and after Cincinnati took care of Houston in the AAC title game, the Bearcats were in the clear.
This is the third time two teams from the same conference are in the CFP and the second time this has happened with the SEC. In the 2017 playoffs, Alabama defeated Georgia in overtime to win the national title.
Conference leaders consider expanding the playoffs from four to 12 teams. As of 2024, only two Power Five leagues will be represented this season: the SEC and the Big Ten. The Atlantic Coast Conference missed the first time. The Big 12 were locked out for a second consecutive season and the Pac-12 would not be a team in the playoffs for the sixth time.
Other large bowl games were also scheduled:
Michigan State (10-2) versus ACC champion Pitt (11-2) at the Peach Bowl on December 30.
Notre Dame (11-1) vs Oklahoma State (11-2) at the Fiesta Bowl on January 1
Pac-12 champion Utah (10-3) vs. Ohio State (10-2) at the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1
Mississippi (10-2) vs. Baylor (11-2) at Sugar Bowl on January 1
Cincinnati’s reward for making history is a matchup with the defending national champions at the Cotton Bowl, home of the Dallas Cowboys.
“We definitely think Cincinnati is in the playoffs,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said on ESPN.
The Crimson Tide are in the playoffs for the seventh time in the eight-year history of the postseason format after handing Georgia their first loss of the season in the Southeastern Conference title game on Saturday.
Alabama (12-1) looked like a loss away from being eliminated from the playoff contention going into their game with Georgia. Instead, Bryce Young and the Tide lit up Bulldog’s haunted defense to earn the top seed.
“Alabama not only beat Georgia, but the way they beat them – they controlled the game a lot from start to finish,” Barta said.
Barta stated that the committee did not consider avoiding a rematch between the Tide and the Bulldogs in the first round when seeding teams.
Nick Saban’s Alabama dynasty has won three playoff championships to go with three BCS titles since 2009.
Georgia (12–1) managed to stay in the field as a third seed, losing their conference title and becoming the second team to make the playoffs. Notre Dame did the same last season, when it lost a rematch in its lone season with Clemson playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference, a move prompted by the pandemic-changed schedule.
The Bulldogs will be making their second CFP appearance when they meet second seed Michigan (12–1) at the Orange Bowl. Coach Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines are in the playoffs for the first time since winning the Big Ten for the first time since 2004. Michigan, who went 2-4 last season, are also the first team to make the playoffs without a rank. Precision ep top 25.
It will be the first matchup of two historic events—no team in college football history has won more games than Michigan—since 1965. The Bulldogs beat Wolverine 15-7 at the Big House.