Rob Oller: Ohio State likely in, Cincinnati probably out of College Football Playoff

Rob Oller
Buckeye Xtra
Cincinnati Bearcats head coach Luke Fickell (middle) and quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) and cornerback Ahmad Gardner (12) lead the team onto the field before the game against the UCF Knights at the Bounce House in Orlando, Fla., on Nov. 21, 2020.

Fear of failure can be a more powerful emotional trigger than thrill of victory, which is why many Ohio State fans rooting for Cincinnati to make the College Football Playoff do so while crossing fingers behind their backs that UC misses the cut.

Watching the Buckeyes make the playoffs, a given if they win their next four games, only to lose to the Bearcats in the semifinals or championship game would leave a bad taste for years.

As Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty put it on Monday, “Think of John Cooper losing to Michigan again. Only worse.”

Rob Oller

What OSU fans favor is for Cincinnati to make the playoff but lose in the semis, preferably to an opponent other than Ohio State. No enjoyment in seeing former Buckeyes player and coach Luke Fickell suffer.

Tougher to stomach would be the Bearcats winning their semifinal while the Buckeyes lose theirs. It would hurt to see Cincinnati reach the title game if Ohio State did not.

Worst-case scenario? The Bearcats going Buster Douglas on a scarlet-and-gray Mike Tyson, which would be impossible to live down.

Is that being shallow? Small-minded? Arrogant? Absolutely, but the fear and loathing of losing to another Ohio team — it has not happened since a 7-6 loss to Oberlin in 1921— is instinctual.

As a UC buddy described it, “What comes to mind is little brother finally beats big brother in one-on-one in the driveway. Ain’t gonna happen, though.”

Probably not. Cincinnati (8-0) needs to go undefeated in its final three games and get outside help to move into the top four. No Group of Five school has made the playoffs in six seasons, and while the oddity of 2020 gives the playoff selection committee a one-time window to change things up, something tells me Power Five muckety-mucks hold too much sway.

To that end, here is the most likely playoff scenario when the committee releases its first rankings at 7 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN.

1.Alabama. The Crimson Tide, ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll, has only one legitimate obstacle remaining in the Southeastern Conference championship game, where the likely opponent will be Florida. The Gators have enough offensive firepower, led by Heisman Trophy contender in Kyle Trask, to pull the upset. But UF's defense cannot stop the Bama offense, led by Heisman candidate quarterback Mac Jones, from scoring so many points that the Gators cannot keep up. Potential slip-ups: at No. 22 Auburn in the Iron Bowl on Saturday. SEC championship game Dec. 19. 

2. Notre Dame. No eye rolls, please. The Fighting Irish face the same lack of respect that plagues Oklahoma; two teams thought to be good enough to make the playoff but not good enough to win it all. But ND deserves the second spot after collecting the necessary signature win against Clemson. The Irish needed two overtimes in South Bend to hold off the Tigers, who were playing without Heisman Trophy candidate Trevor Lawrence, but it’s a better resume builder than what other playoff hopefuls can produce. Potential slip-ups: At No. 25 North Carolina on Saturday; ACC championship game (a likely rematch against Clemson) on Dec. 19.

3. Ohio State. The Buckeyes were neck-and-neck with Notre Dame for the No. 2 perch until Indiana exposed their secondary on Saturday. Double whammy: OSU’s offense managed just seven points after the first drive of the second half in the 42-35 win against the Hoosiers. Given the lack of competition over the next three games, in which opponents are a combined 5-9, the Buckeyes need style-point wins just to keep pace. Potential slip-ups: Michigan on Dec. 12 (har-har); Big Ten championship game on Dec. 19.

4. Clemson. The Tigers sneak in despite the loss to Notre Dame, which if you ask conspiracy-minded coach Dabo Swinney maybe wasn’t a loss after all. Maybe the Irish slipped something sinister into Clemson’s water bottles that skewed the Tigers’ biorhythms. Anyway, I expect Clemson to avenge the ND loss, but for the Irish to still get in. 

First four out: 5. Cincinnati, which needs North Carolina to upset Notre Dame; 6. Texas A&M (5-1), behind the eight-ball having already lost to Alabama; 7. Florida (6-1), which might make the playoff with a win against Bama in the SEC title game; 8. BYU (9-0), a longer shot than Cincinnati; 9. Oregon (3-0), which must run the Pac-12 table and hope for chaos elsewhere. 

Me? I’d love to see Ohio State play Cincinnati for all the marbles, like in the 1961 and '62 NCAA men’s basketball tournaments. No one has to remind Buckeyes fans what happened then. But Bearcats fans do anyway.