College SportsUniversity of Cincinnati


UC Bearcats football: How the team got to this historic game in the College Football Playoff

Cincinnati Miami Ohio Football
Posted at 9:28 AM, Dec 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-31 00:13:17-05

CINCINNATI — You often hear the phrase “It’s not about where you start, but where you finish.”

The problem with that phrase in college football, though, is that there is a certain correlation between where a team starts and where it finishes.

Prior to 2021, no team had ever made the College Football Playoff after being ranked 20th or lower in the preseason poll (Associated Press).

When you mix that with the fact that no group of five team (non-power conference team) had ever made the CFB Playoff either, the odds were stacked against Cincinnati in 2020 when the Bearcats opened the season ranked No. 20 in the country.

Cincinnati made a push toward shattering both of those ceilings in 2020, but ultimately ended up with a still-respectable spot in the Peach Bowl against national powerhouse Georgia.

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The undefeated 2020 regular season – coupled with a strong showing in the Peach Bowl and the return of numerous key players – led to major national respect at the start of the 2021 season.

The Bearcats opened this season as the No. 8 team in the country, according to the AP poll.

"For the past couple of years, we’ve been chasing, chasing, chasing,” said Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder. “Chasing championships, chasing teams. Now, finally, we have the target on our back."

Wins over Miami-OH, Murray State and Indiana led to a clash of unbeatens in South Bend, Ind., on Oct. 2, when Cincinnati visited Notre Dame.

The Bearcats won the game 24-13 with the help of a strong traveling fan base, and that victory became the cornerstone of Cincinnati’s bid to make the College Football Playoff.

Desmond Ridder throws a ball into the stands at Notre Dame, which was more red than green when UC took down the top 25 opponent
Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) throws a football into the stands after Cincinnati defeated Notre Dame, 24-13, in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

“For us to do that today on the road is a big step for us,” said Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell.

The Bearcats would go on to win every football game on their schedule in the fall of 2021, including a double-digit win in the conference championship game over Top 25-ranked Houston. It made UC the only unbeaten team in major college football.

Still, a spot on college football’s brightest stage may not have come without some “help” from other teams.

Oklahoma State lost to Baylor in the Big 12 championship game, which was a major piece of the puzzle. It ensured there would be no more than three teams from power five conferences with fewer than two losses.

It opened the door for Cincinnati to break through the proverbial glass ceiling, which is exactly what happened.

On Dec. 5, the Bearcats officially became the first group of five team to make the college football playoff.

“The opportunity is unbelievable,” said Fickell, just minutes after it was announced. “We say we want to play for championships. We have another opportunity to play for a championship.”

Cincinnati’s reward is a date with Alabama – one of college football’s blue-blood programs – on New Year’s Eve in the Cotton Bowl.

“If you want to win the title, you have to beat the champs, and this is what we have,” said Fickell. “A chance to beat the champs.”

Kickoff between Cincinnati and Alabama is at 3:30 p.m. on Friday in Arlington, Texas. WCPO will have special coverage Thursday night at 7 p.m. and after the game Friday night on-air, online and on your streaming device.

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