Cincinnati climbs CFP mountain, but can it stay there?

CINCINNATI- The University of Cincinnati has played football for more than a century in the long shadow of Ohio State.

After all these years, little brother is making some big noise.

For Cincinnati (13-0), playing in the under-the-radar American Athletic Conference, everything fell into place in 2021. The Bearcats landed as the No. 4 seed in the College Football Playoff, crashing what has been the domain of college football’s blue bloods, the first school outside a Power Five conference to do so.

Meanwhile, back in Columbus, Ohio State fans are still working through the grief of last month’s disastrous loss to Michigan, which to many was worse than being shut out of the playoff for the first time in three seasons.

The Bearcats scaled the CFP mountain and can see the top from there.

Now fifth-year coach Luke Fickell has to figure out how to keep the Bearcats up there as the program prepares to transition to a Power Five conference – the Big 12 – in the next few years.

“When I came here, a mindset of mine was, `I hope someday, that we could become a rival to my alma mater,”‘ said Fickell, who played at Ohio State and was on its coaching staff for 16 years.

“I mean that, all of the sudden, maybe they look at you and recognize that they have to battle against us,” he said. “Whether we play them on the football field or not, a lot of the other opportunities are in recruiting. That’s where we continue to want to be – and that’s not just the Ohio State stuff. That’s being a top-10 program.”

Cincinnati has a well-earned national reputation as a basketball school. But it could never compete with the tradition, fan base, facilities and recruiting advantage of the juggernaut Buckeyes.

It has, however, had enough football success in the past two decades to become a mid-major stop on the coaching ladder for…

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