AP Top 25 Takeaways: Oklahoma loss boosts Cincinnati’s hopes

  • Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) celebrates with teammates after his 13-yard touchdown run against South Florida during the first half of an NCAA college football game Friday, Nov. 12, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

  • Baylor quarterback Gerry Bohanon (11) yells while scoring a touchdown against Oklahoma during a NCAA college football in Waco, Texas on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021. (Ian Maule/Tulsa World via AP)

The College Football Playoff selection committee’s assessment of Oklahoma ended up looking spot on.

The number of unbeaten teams in major college football dropped to three Saturday after the Sooners were manhandled by No. 18 Baylor.

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No. 1 Georgia, No. 2 Cincinnati and No. 15 UTSA have not yet lost.

While fans and the committee nitpick the Bearcats for futzing around with the soft underbelly of the American Athletic Conference, everything else continues to fall into place for Cincinnati to became the first non-Power Five playoff team.

The No. 4 Sooners were 9-0 coming off their open date, but ranked only eighth by the committee, which wasn’t overly impressed by the quality of those victories. Too many close calls against unranked teams.

The skepticism proved warranted. An offense that looked as if it had kicked into another gear since Caleb Williams took over couldn’t run it against the Bears and the freshman quarterback made a bunch of freshman mistakes. Williams seemed to be dealing with an issue to his throwing hand and even gave way to Spencer Rattler (remember him?) for a few series.

Oklahoma has surged from outside playoff position to make the semifinals several times and its closing stretch this season seemed built to slingshot the Sooners past Cincinnati — and possibly others.

“We’ll bounce back like we always do and like we fully expect to,” Sooners coach Lincoln Riley said.

This time one loss might be too many for OU.

The Sooners remain in control of their path to the Big 12 title game, but there are currently no unbeaten teams in the conference and the two teams best situated to make the playoff —- Oklahoma and Oklahoma State —- still have to play. Maybe twice.

As for the Bearcats (CFP No. 5), they were never truly threatened Friday night at South Florida, but it was a 10-point game against the lowly Bulls in the fourth quarter.

Cincinnati’s last four opponents have a combined record of 9-30. The Bearcats were favored by at least 20 points in each game and won by an average margin of 12.7 points. Not great.

But maybe Cincinnati doesn’t need so many style points.

Past results have created the assumption that a one-loss Power Five conference champion would finish ahead of an unbeaten team from a Group of Five conference. That was the case when UCF never came close to cracking the top four.

Cincinnati, though, is positioned to hold off a one-loss champion from either the Big 12 or the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Quick math shows that leaves only three Power Five conferences. Unless one of them puts two in the CFP — certainly possible with the Southeastern Conference —- who else gets the fourth spot over the unbeaten Bearcats, who host SMU (7-2) next week?

HOT COMMODITY?

Is the coach who Penn State fans haven become increasingly frustrated with still viewed as a hot commodity to other blue blood programs?

James Franklin’s team has lost four of five after falling to No. 9 Michigan on Saturday and heads into the final two two weeks of the season with a 6-4 record .

There is nothing more difficult to find in college football right now than a coach with a long track record of high level success.

Franklin is 66-32 with the Nittany Lions, including three double-digit win campaigns and a Big Ten championship in eight seasons since taking over a program that was still digging out of NCAA sanctions. He also went an unheard of 24-15 in three seasons at Vanderbilt.

If Franklin doesn’t qualify as a good college football coach, then the list of who does is shorter than a fourth-and-inches. But how much does what he has done lately (10-9 over the last two seasons) change the perception of his whole body of work in the eyes of potential suitors such as Southern California and LSU?

It was easy to call a 2020 a pandemic-induced anomaly when Penn State started 5-0 this season with victories against Wisconsin and Auburn. Since leading at halftime against Iowa, little has gone right for the Nittany Lions and Franklins. The Iowa game got away after quarterback Sean Clifford was hurt and Penn State now has four losses by a total of 18 points.

When USC first came open, and Franklin was 5-0, it seemed as if Penn State would be under pressure to pony up another big contract extension to keep its coach. Franklin’s current deal runs through 2025 and pays him about $6 million annually. If the Nittany Lions finish 8-4 or 7-5, Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour might be les likely to break the bank.

The odd thing about the Franklin-Penn State relationship right now is there might never be a better time for the two to go their separate ways.

Even with the recent problems, Franklin would be the most accomplished coach USC has hired in decades. Meanwhile, Penn State might have the perfect replacement for him available in Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

The unraveling of coach Dan Mullen’s tenure at Florida took another turn against Samford. The Gators allowed 52 points and 530 yards to the so-so FCS team in the first game after Mullen fired defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. The Gators scored 70 to avoid the ultimate embarrassment. “Calling a win disappointing is disrespectful to the game,” Mullen said. Florida (5-5) closes with Missouri and Florida State … Who had Florida State’s Mike Norvell as the most secure Power Five coach in the Sunshine State after the Seminoles lost to Jacksonville State in September? FSU snapped a four-game losing streak to Miami that will increase the heat on Hurricanes coach Manny Diaz. … Tennessee made Georgia’s defense look normal for a quarter, then didn’t score again until it was 41-10 with 3:38 left in the fourth quarter. Of some concern to the Bulldogs were injuries to LB Nolan Smith and DL Devonte Wyatt. … What team ranked in the preseason is having the worst season? Florida makes a case, but so does Indiana. The Hoosiers started ranked No. 17, but the latest blowout, at home to Rutgers, made Indiana 2-7 and very much in danger of its first winless Big Ten season since 2011. … Texas Tech’s Jonathan Garibay drilled a 62-yard game-winning field goal to beat Iowa State and make the Red Raiders, who have already fired a coach and hired a new coach, bowl eligible. … That was only the second-best walk-off winner of the day. The best came at the DakotaDome, where South Dakota beat rival South Dakota State on a double-deflected Hail Mary TD pass.

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