University of Cincinnati soccer head coach Luke Fickell will collect the trophy for the American Athletic Conference soccer championship game at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati on Saturday, December 19, 2020.
It is undeniable at this point in time to deny the legitimacy of Luke Fickell’s # 8 Bearcats soccer team for 2020, even for Power Five diehards. The overall picture, however, shows a silver lining for UC’s impressive presentation of the American Athletic Conference.
UC made it to one of the six most prestigious bowl games of the season, losing to the University of Georgia on a field goal, but is their fight really over? I am not arguing.
In the past decade, an AAC team has competed in a New Years Six Bowl seven of the ten seasons. The tendency; The AAC comes just inches from the college football playoffs. Unbeaten representative this year; the bearcats.
Georgia’s defense allowed an average of 69.3 yards per game (YDS / G), which was # 1 in college football. Cincinnati rushed to the Peach Bowl for 99 YDS. Georgia was predicted to win by seven points and they have won by three in the last 60 seconds.
Likewise, UGA averaged 32.3 total points per game for the season, but was kept at 24 by UC. The Bulldogs also rushed just 45 yards, well below their average YDS / G of 174.2 and 145 yards against Alabama, the college football champion.
Georgia completed seven third and 20 first losses to Alabama and only one and 19 to the Bearcats.
Cincinnati’s defense, the Blackcats, also forced Georgia to flip the ball twice, while the Bearcats offensive only coughed the ball out once. Even so, Cincinnati competed against Georgia and proudly represented the AAC, as did their conference colleagues in the past.
The University of Central Florida ended the 2017 season and represented the AAC in 6th place overall. In the 2018 preseason rankings, she was downgraded to 21st overall, despite beating Auburn in the Peach Bowl.
UCF was unbeaten and placed 12th overall in the 2017 Peach Bowl, meaning they were the top-ranked non-power five school. All of the Power Five schools before them had at least one loss, six of them with two or more losses.
Similarly, UCF didn’t even crack the AP poll for the 2017 preseason, which ultimately angered the doubters when they hit number 6 overall that year. Likewise, the University of Houston was the 2015 AAC champion, ranking 8th overall, only to come in 15th in the 2016 AP preseason poll. In the AP poll, Houston wasn’t even in the top 25 in the 2015 preseason rankings.
Again and again, AAC schools have to create too large a resume to be taken seriously, which has to change.
Cincinnati again demonstrated that the AAC can compete with the “big boys” of the Power Five by achieving the highest rank per game (192.3) of any final top 10 contender. Only one top 10 team was higher than UC when it came to YDS / G, and that was Ohio State University, which competed in the national championship.
The 2020 football season pandemic has apparently brought the College Football Playoff Committee’s bias towards Power Five schools to a point some had previously overlooked. In the 2020 playoff rankings, four teams with two or more losses held positions in the top 10, all of which were part of a Power Five conference.
Not only were undefeated teams like Cincinnati (9-0) and Coastal Carolina (11-0) seen as undeserved, teams like OSU (5-0) had changed their conference rules to allow them access to playoffs. There’s a point where “why play?” is a fair question for a group of five schools, as its value for the expected success of historically good programs is tossed aside.
In the last eight seasons, the AAC champion was only included in the last top 10 in 50% of the cases. After two consecutive seasons of eleven wins, Fickell’s Bearcats were only ranked 20th in the 2020 preseason polls.
When the 2021 preseason leaderboard is released, Bearcat fans will see if the college football committee has received its overdue reality check.