This was not Cincinnati’s week.
It started when the unbeaten Bearcats were slated No. 6 in the College Football Playoff committee’s first rankings even though they were No. 2 in the coaches poll and held a win at No. 8 Notre Dame.
So entering Saturday, two things needed to happen: an impressive win against Tulsa and Cincinnati’s upcoming marquee opponents also build their resumes.
The Bearcats started well enough against the Golden Hurricane with touchdowns on two of their first three drives. It was 14-0, and it seemed like an easy day was ahead after closer-than-expected wins against Navy and Tulane in the previous two weeks had dimmed their ranking outlook.
COACHES POLL PREDICTIONS:Where will Cincinnati, Alabama and Oklahoma end up?
WINNERS, LOSERS:Arizona, Miami, Tennessee on top; Wake Forest tumbles
Tulsa didn’t go away, though. It was 14-12 at the half. Cincinnati pushed ahead by 16 in the third quarter and was seemingly in charge again. Then, the Golden Hurricane dominated the fourth quarter.
It took two goal-line stands in the final two minutes to preserve an eight-point win in the game the Bearcats were outgained 457-380. Not exactly the kind of performance that is going to assuage committee members who already had doubts about them.
It got worse later in the day as No. 24 SMU, the only ranked opponent left on their schedule, lost to Memphis. Houston, the likely foe in the American Athletic title game, struggled against South Florida.
Come next Tuesday, Cincinnati likely is still outside the top four and could lose ground to Michigan and Oklahoma.
A day when losing streaks ended
It has been more than two years — 763 days to be exact — since Arizona last won a football game. That was until Saturday when the Wildcats knocked off California to end a 20-game losing streak that included the last seven games of the 2019 season, all five games last year and the first eight games of this campaign.
The fact that the Golden Bears were down several starters, including quarterback Chase Garbers, due to COVID-19 mattered little to Arizona fans, who stormed the field to celebrate the end of the longest active streak of futility in the Bowl Subdivision.
The win by Arizona made UNLV the team with the longest run of consecutive losses at 14. The Rebels only held the honor for about four hours as they knocked off New Mexico on the road for their first win since the 2019 season, giving every FBS team at least one victory on the season.
Kansas, Florida International and Arkansas State now share the mark for most consecutive losses with eight.
Not making the committee proud
The three biggest surprise inclusions in the initial playoff rankings won’t be there next week. Regardless if there is a correlation, Saturday was not kind to Mississippi State, Minnesota and Fresno State, who were No. 17, No. 20 and No. 23, respectively.
Mississippi State being so high raised some eyebrows, even with their wins against Texas A&M and Kentucky working in their favor. It trailed at Arkansas most of the game — helped by their three missed field goals — before a late touchdown appeared to put them in control. However, the Razorbacks rallied on a late touchdown drive, extended by a questionable holding penalty on fourth down that sent Mike Leach’s team to 5-4.
The Golden Gophers never got that close even though they were a two-touchdown favorite at home against Illinois. It was the Fighting Illini that dominated, leading 14-0 until Minnesota finally got on the board with a late touchdown. It was an anemic effort that belied the progress made by four consecutive wins in the Big Ten that had put them in first place in the West. Up next is Iowa. As quickly as things seemed to be trending upward, Minnesota could be out of the race for the division title.
Fresno State was hoping to build on last week’s upset of previously unbeaten San Diego State that clearly impressed the committee along with their close loss to Oregon in the opener. But they were never in their home game against Boise State. It ended 40-14 only because of a late touchdown that was purely cosmetic. The loss means Fresno State is no longer in control of its destiny in the Mountain West.
Lack of defense catches up with Wake Forest
The Demon Deacons are never going to make the playoff. Not because the committee wouldn’t select them, but because their defense just wasn’t good enough.
You can only play in so many games with scores that resemble low-scoring basketball contests before those needed stops in the fourth quarter don’t happen. The Achilles’ heel finally reared its head against North Carolina. Wake Forest appeared in control with quarterback Sam Hartman accounting for six touchdowns and leading on the road 45-27 in the third quarter.
Most 8-0 teams should finish off the win from that point. The Demon Deacons couldn’t as UNC scored touchdowns on four of its next five drives (with a field goal on the other) to win 58-55.
The loss shouldn’t take away from the amazing start for Wake, which reached the top 10 of the coaches poll and playoff rankings for the first time. And because the game against the Tar Heels did not count in the ACC standings, there’s still an opportunity to get to the conference title game if it can get by North Carolina State next week.