College Football Playoff: Cincinnati Bearcats join Ohio State Buckeyes in top 4

FILE - In this Dec. 7, 2019, file photo, Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell watches from the sideline during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Memphis for the American Athletic Conference championship in Memphis, Tenn. The Bearcats return 16 starters from last year’s squad which went 9-1. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)
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FILE - In this Dec. 7, 2019, file photo, Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell watches from the sideline during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Memphis for the American Athletic Conference championship in Memphis, Tenn. The Bearcats return 16 starters from last year’s squad which went 9-1. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

Credit: Mark Humphrey

Credit: Mark Humphrey

Ohio State moved up to No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings while the Cincinnati Bearcats joined the Buckeyes in playoff position for the first time.

Undefeated Cincinnati is No. 4 this week as both teams took advantage of Oregon’s blowout loss to Utah.

ExploreBuckeyes turn focus to winner-take-all Michigan battle

The Ducks were No. 3 last week but fell to No. 11 and are all but eliminated after suffering their second loss of the season.

Georgia is No. 1 again this week, as the undefeated Bulldogs have been every week the committee rankings have been released.

One-loss Alabama dropped to No. 3 with two weeks to go that should feature numerous games with the potential to shake up the rankings.

Ohio State added a big resumebuilder by blowing out then-No. 7 Michigan State 56-7 last week and moved up two spots, but the Buckeyes must beat No. 5 Michigan this week to remain in the playoff hunt.

“It certainly gets your attention, though, when they’re up 49-0 at half,” CFP chair Gary Barta, who is the athletic director at Iowa, told reporters on a conference call after the rankings were released. “(Ohio State) had three receivers all over 100 yards for the game, and C.J. Stroud played great again. I will say this, though. You mentioned their defense. They were able to hold -- we all know that Kenneth Walker is a great running back, and Ohio State was able to hold him pretty much ineffective.”

Cincinnati is the first team from outside the Power 5 conferences to appear in the top four of the CFP rankings since the playoff began in 2014.

Barta said the committee compared the Bearcats against the top three as well as the three after them (Michigan, Notre Dame and Oklahoma State) before settling with them at No. 4.

“When we rank, we look at groups in pods,” Barta said. “So we did compare Cincinnati upward with Alabama, Ohio State and Georgia, but then we also had them on the board with Michigan and Notre Dame and Oklahoma State.

“The fact is there’s only three undefeated teams left, and Cincinnati is one of those, Georgia and UTSA being the other two. The win against Notre Dame at Notre Dame has always impressed the committee. The strength of schedule is always a conversation with Cincinnati. It still was a conversation this week, but they played an 8-2 SMU team, and not only did they play them, but they controlled both offensively and defensively.”

The Bearcats play at East Carolina (7-4) on Friday then should have a chance to beef up their resume further against No. 24 Houston in the AAC Championship Game next week.

“I think it’s awesome,” Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell told ESPN after the rankings were released. “I think it’s great for our entire team, our program, our community and our campus. We try to stress to our guys we’ve still got a ways to go. We’ve got two really big games coming up here, but I think all the excitement about it and the recognition is well-deserved to a group of guys that have really fought and battled all week.”

The winner of the Ohio State-Michigan game will face Wisconsin, Iowa or Minnesota in the Big Ten Championship game. The Badgers, who already lost to Michigan, are No. 14 this week while Iowa is No. 16 and Minnesota (a week one loser at home to OSU) is unranked.

“Michigan, we’ve talked, especially the last several weeks about just them being a complete football team,” Barta said. “They’re well balanced. Their offense and defense are both ranked nationally in most categories. Their best win to date is at Wisconsin. They also had a good win at Penn State. Very good football team, well-balanced, and obviously looking forward to watching Ohio State and Michigan play this weekend.”

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