COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The undefeated Cincinnati Bearcats did what they had to do Saturday to keep alive their chance at a national championship, blowing out upset-minded Southern Methodist, 48-14.

But it was a blowout nearly 1,500 miles away that may have helped them the most.

Coming into this week’s games, Cincinnati was No. 5 in the College Football Playoff rankings, the first team out of the semifinal that decides the FBS national champion. Oregon was No. 3, but the Ducks suffered a deflating, 38-7 loss to Utah Saturday night in Salt Lake City.

No team has ever made the playoff with two losses, so Oregon (9-2) still sneaking in would be unprecedented. So would be Cincinnati, a “Group of 5” conference (lower tier of FBS) team making the playoff, but Oregon’s loss may open the floodgates.

Oddsmakers agree. FiveThirtyEight’s updated projections Sunday morning give the Bearcats (11-0) a 51% chance of making the playoff, replacing Oregon at third-best in the nation. Ohio State, after the Buckeyes’ 56-7 thrashing of Michigan State to move to 10-1, is given a 50% chance of making the playoff.

TeamChance of making playoffCFP ranking before weekend
Georgia (11-0)81%No. 1
Alabama (10-1)60%No 2
Cincinnati (11-0)51%No. 5
Ohio State (10-1)50%No. 4
Okla. State (10-1)43%No. 9
Michigan (10-1)30%No. 6
Oklahoma (10-1)24%No. 13
Notre Dame (10-1)20%No. 8
Oregon (9-2)18%No. 3
Baylor (9-2)14%No. 11
Source: FiveThirtyEight projections as of 6:33 a.m. Sunday.

Analyzing Cincinnati’s threats

The Bearcats still have to manage their own destiny, first by winning their final regular season game at East Carolina (7-4) Friday at 3:30 p.m. Then they would face current No. 24 Houston (10-1) for the American Athletic Conference title, regardless if the Cougars defeat UConn Saturday at noon.

Assuming the playoff committee has no tolerance of two-loss teams, Cincinnati only has to worry about undefeated and one-loss programs:

  • No. 1 Georgia (11-0)
  • No. 2 Alabama (10-1)
  • No. 4 Ohio State (10-1)
  • No. 6 Michigan (10-1)
  • No. 8 Notre Dame (10-1)
  • No. 9 Oklahoma State (10-1)
  • No. 13 Oklahoma (10-1)
  • No. 19 San Diego State (10-1)
  • No. 22 UTSA (11-0)
  • No. 24 Houston (10-1)
  • Louisiana (10-1)

Georgia and Alabama have been atop the CFP rankings in each of the poll’s three weeks this year, and the two powerhouses will meet in two weeks for the Southeastern Conference championship. With both teams facing an unranked opponent before then, the likeliest SEC title game scenario is Georgia at 12-0 and Alabama at 11-1.

If Alabama beats Georgia, both teams could get in at 11-1. Although the Bulldogs wouldn’t be conference champions, FiveThirtyEight still gives them a 52% chance of making the playoff with a loss to the Crimson Tide even if Cincinnati wins out.

A two-loss Alabama team with a loss to Georgia, however, may give Cincinnati something to sweat. FiveThirtyEight gives that 10-2 Crimson Tide a 33% chance of making the playoff even if the Bearcats win out. And that may open the door for one-loss programs to leapfrog Cincinnati.

Ohio State travels to Michigan Saturday for a noon kickoff, so one of those teams will earn a second loss. And the winner of that game will still have to win the Big Ten title to stay in apparent playoff contention.

As for one-loss Notre Dame, Cincinnati hasn’t had to worry about the Fighting Irish since beating them in October, which was Bearcats’ only win against a ranked opponent.

In-state rivals Oklahoma and Oklahoma State face each other Saturday night, which will doom one of them to two losses. The winner will play in the Big 12 championship.

One-loss San Diego State, Houston and Louisiana are unlikely to pose a threat (except for Houston in the AAC title game), because the committee has historically not much valued Group of 5 programs with a loss. As for undefeated UTSA, the Roadrunners have not faced a ranked opponent.

The CFP committee releases its new rankings at 7 p.m. eastern time Tuesday. If Cincinnati indeed earns a spot in the top four this week, it will be a first for a Group of 5 team in the 8-year history of the poll.