Cincinnati aims to prove it’s more than a Cinderella by breaking into exclusive College Football Playoff

College football has never embraced Cinderella. You know, the gutty, little underdog that takes on giants — that lifeforce that is, in basketball, the lifeblood of the NCAA Tournament.

Whatever you want to call it — tradition, snobbery, whatever — college football has been an exclusive gated community for a century and a half. Only the privileged have the password.

Why, though? This country loves its underdogs. This country was once an underdog. It just doesn’t love them as much in college football.

“That’s the $64 million question,” AAC commissioner Mike Aresco said this week. “You have to earn that respect, of course. I think there is a feeling somehow that we don’t play at a particular level. I’ve never bought that.”

It’s his No. 4 Cincinnati that will try to break through what has, to this point, been a cement ceiling when it plays in the AAC Championship Game against No. 21 Houston on Saturday. Beat the Cougars, and the undefeated Bearcats have an extremely good chance of getting into the College Football Playoff.

They may not know it, but they’ll be carrying on their backs the hopes and dreams of scores of programs that were deemed — through athletic discrimination or even TV ratings — to not be good enough. What were once perceptions are now well-established labels: Power Five and Group of Five. Those labels are mostly media shortcuts, but the definitions are well known to those who follow the game.

The Power Five are the legacy conferences: ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC. The Group of Five are the less-resourced leagues: American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt.

“There’s a difference in funding,” Houston coach Dana Holgorsen said of the Group of Five. “There’s a difference in national…


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