After Cincinnati wrapped up an undefeated season and AAC championship Saturday night, coach Luke Fickell said he believes his team deserves a shot at the College Football Playoff.
The Bearcats entered their title game against Tulsa ranked No. 9, with little hope of jumping five spots into the top four no matter what happened Saturday. No Group of 5 team has ever made the playoff.
"I believe this team deserves a shot," Fickell said. "Unfortunately, it's not up to me. The thing you've got to look at is the body of work, and I know it's about playing your best ball at the end of the year, but I think you've got to say everything that was thrown in front of these guys, they've been successful. This is a football team that, quite frankly, I don't know how they're going to be denied."
Cincinnati went nearly a month between playing games, as it dealt with coronavirus issues within the program. At one point, Fickell said the entire team was under quarantine for 14 days, so there was no in-person communication or workouts.
That might have contributed to a slow start against Tulsa, but in the end, Cincinnati finished the regular season 9-0 and at the very least all but locked up a spot in a New Year's Six game as the top Group of 5 team.
"I know I don't have the final say and whatever I say doesn't probably go a long way, but I think you've got to look at this team and say, 'What have they been asked to do?'" Fickell said. "Maybe they haven't played an SEC team or something like that, but everything they've been asked to do, they've done."
AAC commissioner Mike Aresco was particularly vocal in trying to get Cincinnati more consideration this week. Another American team, UCF, went undefeated in the regular season in both 2017 and 2018 but was not given an opportunity to make the playoff.
Though the league calls itself a Power 6 conference, the reality is it simply is not treated like one by the playoff committee. Still, the players are hoping the committee sees them differently.
"This conference can compete with anyone in the country," quarterback Desmond Ridder said. "No one in this conference is going to back down from anyone."