The Cincinnati Bearcats had a prime opportunity to do two things Friday: advance to the College Football Playoff National Championship and legitimize Group of Five schools claiming coveted spots in the College Football Playoff in the future. While their efforts came up short of sending them to the big dance, there’s a case to be made that they did plenty to justify similarly dominant programs going to the playoff in the future.

Cincinnati’s Cinderella story came to an end around 6 p.m. Tuscaloosa Time, but they certainly put together the sort of performance that keeps the door open for another G5 program to write a more complete one in the future.

The Bearcats got pressure on Bryce Young all night, keeping the Heisman Trophy winner uncomfortable enough to play one of his worst games of his season. It may not have been Young’s worst outing in terms of stats, but he looked confused, flustered and desperate in the pocket most of the afternoon. The Bearcat defense got five quarterback hurries, two sacks and had five other tackles in the backfield.

Unfortunately for Cincinnati, Alabama’s ground game ran through them all night and their offensive counterparts only put together two scoring drives, both of which resulted in field goals.

The loss was far from embarrassing. Both teams were locked in a tight competition most of the afternoon. It was a two-score game until early in the fourth quarter. In past playoff games against Alabama, teams have done substantially worse. In the second year of the CFP format, Alabama shut Michigan State out 38-0. In that game, Michigan State showed absolutely no signs of belonging on the same field as Alabama.

There was also the 31-14 drumming of Notre Dame by Alabama in 2020 and their 2016 beat down of Washington 24-7.

Even looking beyond College Football Playoff games involving Alabama, there have been some properly embarrassing blowouts. Clemson blanked Ohio State 31-0 in 2016 and demolished Notre Dame 30-3 in 2018. In an embarrassing but at least entertaining 2019 matchup, LSU slaughtered Oklahoma 63-28.

All of this is to say that while Cincinnati got beat resoundingly today, it was both far from embarrassing and far more competitive an effort than we’ve seen from a lot of perennial Power Five powerhouses in the past.

The Bearcats should be proud of their effort, and the college football world should watch out. It isn’t going to take half a decade of dominance for Group of Five schools to make the Playoff anymore. They’ve proven they can hang.

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