Cincinnati gets Bama in playoffs. And it was comical how powers that be could've blocked this.

It was a sometimes brave, mostly weird, rarely sincere slogan of every college football freshman for the past dozen years, written on signs designed to make a smile or sung through muffled laughter by student groups across the country.
"We want Bama."
Well, Cincinnati, you dreaming big, goal-falling, perfect regular season - after perfect regular season group of 5 underdogs, congratulations on accomplishing the seemingly impossible and actually making it to the college football playoffs.
Now guess what?
You have bama.
On Sunday, the playoff committee determined: # 1 Alabama, the reigning national champion, driven by another Heisman favorite and another SEC championship, with the greatest coach of all time and a five-star squad against ... fourth seed University of Cincinnati Bearcats in Arlington, Texas on December 31st.
On the other side of the draw, No. 2 Michigan will face No. 3 Georgia, a match of at least similar weight classes later that night in Miami Gardens, Florida.
Bearcats head coach Luke Fickell (left) and quarterback Desmond Ridder celebrate after defeating Houston in the championship game of the American Athletic Conference in Cincinnati. (Kareem Elgazzar / The Cincinnati Enquirer via USA TODAY NETWORK)
So here we finally have the chance to see exactly what a very, very good team can actually fight for a title outside of the historical power structure of sport. Just to get here, UC has scaled a wall built on television revenue and decades-old conference affiliations that have long defined the haves and have-nots, the worthy and unworthy, the real and the given.
Bearcats trainer Luke Fickell doesn't want to be involved in making this global. He is wisely focused on his team and his team alone, not the past or the future elsewhere.
"We represent ourselves and what we do in our program, our university, our community and our city," said Fickell on Sunday on ESPN.
Can UC do that? Of course, nobody knows. Not yet. Before that, however, college football did everything in its power to make sure we never found out.
"All you ever wanted was a chance"
The history of the sport is littered with great teams with no conference connections or decades of pedigree that have never been able to settle in the field.
Occasionally these clubs have had a chance to play against someone from a decent league, but never a real chance of a real championship. They were placed at the children's table in the bowl series, often pitted against each other. Sports Illustrated once called them the "Separate but Equal" bowls.
You have to go back to 1984 and BYU - old days under the current system - to find a team outside of the big conferences to win a national title.
And so the history of sport is littered with the unknown. Utah. Boise State. TCU. UCF. Even Tulane and Hawaii.
Sometimes they were the only undefeated team in the nation (Boise, 2006). Sometimes they bragged about the # 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft (Utah and Alex Smith, 2004). Sometimes they won the Rose Bowl (TCU, 2010). Sometimes they did it two years in a row (UCF, 2017 and 2018).
Sometimes they beat Oklahoma on a piece of the Statue of Liberty and then had their running back suggest to his cheerleading friend (if you have to ask ...) that they go 13-0 but never got a chance to advance. Sometimes they even hit Bama (Utah, 2008 Sugar Bowl).
Were they good enough to actually win everything? Maybe not. Or maybe. Nobody can say for sure.
But a litany of legendary coaches who led them and then moved on to bigger things - Urban Meyer and Kyle Wittingham in Utah, Chris Peterson in Boise, Gary Patterson at TCU, Scott Frost at UCF - everyone continues to wonder to this day.
“All you ever wanted was a chance,” Petersen said years ago. "You just wanted to find out."
Bearcats got outside help to crash CFP
Cincinnati will find out. Cincinnati will get that chance. The way is there. Win two games and the Bearcats are national champions. Nobody else has ever faced this reality. They would always be denied, voted out, or despised.
Petersen railed at the criticism he had heard of a Boise State team dumping half a dozen NFL draft picks. The home stadium was too small - like getting points for it. It used to be a junior college - as if that mattered to third down.
Or how Boise, Idaho is too small and isolated - "and Lincoln, Nebraska isn't," he once said? "We have a million people here, Fortune 500 companies."
It was always something. A metric. An argument. A doubt. Now? Well, there is no such thing now. At least this time. UC did it the hard way. It required posting consecutive unbeaten regular seasons - as last year's results were important to everyone else (cough, cough 2-4 Michigan) - to build credibility. It won all of its games. The Bearcats solidly beat fifth-placed Notre Dame at Notre Dame and effectively knocked out the Irish.
And they still needed the ACC, Big 12, and Pac-12 to cannibalize themselves. If Oklahoma State running back Dezmon Jackson could have stretched a few inches at the end of the Big 12 title game, UC is likely down.
That was how fragile it was.
Oklahoma State running back Dezmon Jackson stayed behind in the Big 12 title game, much to Cincinnati's delight. (AP Photo / Roger Steinman)
Anyway, UC is in. Hiring a team of 32 seniors, with an NFL quarterback, with a likely first-round defensive back, with a coach that interests even the biggest programs in the country, is on this matter.
The story goes that the bearcats won't win. The story says it won't even be near. This is Alabama, after all.
The Tide just beat a supposedly invincible Georgia team at 17. In last year's playoffs, it beat Ohio State by 28 and Notre Dame by 17. Alabama has won playoff games by 17 (Washington, 2016), 18 (Clemson, 2017) and 38 (Michigan, 2015).
If that is the fate that happens to Cincinnati, so be it. This shouldn't be the referendum that will affect all future teams in the Group of 5 - smartly and eventually expanded up to this playoff - as it hasn't defined the other victims of the Saban steamroller.
At least Cincinnati gets a chance. Everything is settled between the lines, not in a committee room or by computer formula or over decades of persistent opinions.
"We know it will be an incredible challenge," said Fickell. "[However] our boys didn't do anything other than face challenges."
You have bama.
Now comes the hard part.
In this article:
Luke Fickell
American football players and coaches

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