It only took eight years, but a Group of 5 school has reached the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings as unbeaten Cincinnati of the American Athletic Conference ascended to No. 4 in the new rankings on Tuesday night. In theory, if UC wins out it would be in the national semifinals on New Year's Eve, yet Caesars Sportsbook oddsmakers aren't all that confident in listing Cincinnati at -120 to make the playoff and +100 to miss.
Coach Luke Fickell's team was the big winner of previous CFP No. 3 Oregon losing 38-7 at Utah this past Saturday, which dropped the Ducks to No. 11 in the rankings and ended the Pac-12's chances of getting a team in. The ACC won't be in, either, and it's going to be very tough for the Big 12.
Cincinnati is a 14-point favorite for its regular-season finale on Saturday at a pretty good East Carolina team and then the Bearcats will face an excellent Houston side (ranked No. 24 in the CFP) in the AAC title game. The Cougars lost their season opener out of conference to Texas Tech and have been thumping opponents ever since.
If Fickell's club makes the playoff, it's hard to see him being hired at an opening like USC or Florida because those schools would have to wait so long to finalize something. Plus, would Fickell really leave after such a massive achievement?
Georgia, Ohio State and Alabama are 1-2-3 with Michigan, Notre Dame and Oklahoma State right behind the Bearcats. At Caesars Sportsbook, Georgia is the odds-on favorite at -120 to win it all for the first time since 1980.
"Even with Georgia having that cushion by not having a loss yet, I think their current price accurately reflects that," said Adam Pullen, Assistant Director of Trading at Caesars Sportsbook. "I don't know how high you can make them, they're right now 4-point favorites over Alabama. I just think there isn't much value with their current price, people who have Georgia have them locked up at much better numbers. Georgia's our biggest liability too, that's really been the case over the past five seasons. They're finally getting their money's worth this year."
The Dawgs and Tide are on a collision course in the SEC title game and it's more likely than not that both make the playoff unless Alabama is trashed in that game in its second loss. Ohio State is -8 at Michigan on Saturday and the winner plays in the Big Ten title game and the loser is out of the playoff hunt.
Notre Dame could be in a good position as the Irish close their season Saturday as nearly three-TD favorites at Stanford, although that won't help strength of schedule. There's no way the committee can put the Irish ahead of Cincinnati, though, unless the Bearcats do lose considering UC owns a head-to-head tiebreaker. Cincinnati has the fourth-lowest national title odds at +3000.
"I think people will be intrigued by these longer shots," Pullen said. "They're more attractive just because of their juicy odds, but their odds reflect that those teams would be a double-digit underdog to Georgia. One team that stands out to me is Oklahoma State, they're playing lights out and their defense is amazing. If they put a good performance up against Oklahoma, I would have them ranked ahead of Cincinnati. Unfortunately for Cincinnati, if you're not in one of the top conferences, you have to win impressively pretty much every game. They need to do whatever they can to look as good as they can, they need to lay a pasting against East Carolina this week."
In the history of the playoff, no team ranked outside the top seven this late in the season (Baylor is No. 8) has moved into the top four after the conference championship games. The No. 7 team has advanced to the top four twice in that span: Oklahoma in 2017 and Georgia two years ago.
Current projected national semifinal odds via SportsLine oddsmakers:
- No. 1 Georgia -17 vs. No. 4 Cincinnati
- No. 2 Ohio State -3.5 vs. No. 3 Alabama
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