A discussion has recently accelerated as to whether or not 7th-ranked Cincinnati and 8th-ranked BYU should face off against each other on December 5th.
This idea initially gained traction after recent information surfaced that BYU was looking to add one additional game over the next two weekends to fill a large gap between their game this weekend against North Alabama and their game December 12th against San Diego State.
The list of teams that even have an opening isn’t terribly long, and is even shorter now that a number of previously postponed American Athletic Conference games have been rescheduled to that Saturday.
A few still remain, and one of the AAC teams that is still available that Saturday (Dec 5) prior to the conference championship game is Cincinnati, who is currently right above BYU in the rankings. The question then becomes is there enough reward for either Cincinnati or BYU in playing each other during the regular season that it justifies the risk?
THE CASE FOR BYU
I think the upside here is obvious. While there’s a high chance that the Cougars finish the season undefeated, that’s largely because their schedule is so weak. Right now the Liberty Flames are only ranked 21st in the AP Poll, but their 8-0 record includes two wins over ACC programs at least. If nobody is talking about them with any seriousness with that resume, why BYU?
BYU hasn’t played anyone of note, as their best game by far is their road domination of Boise. Their two remaining games are against FCS North Alabama and San Diego State, games that are not really going to move the needle much. Heck, North Alabama is the kind of team that could drop BYU in the rankings unless they absolutely blow their doors off.
BYU, as they stand, has probably peaked at #8 in the polls, though they could drift a tad higher with two more wins and extreme chaos elsewhere. The Cougars playing Cincinnati would give them a win over a top-10 opponent, which would strengthen their resume considerably, but I’m hard-pressed to believe that there’s enough space – in the selection committee’s eyes – between “8-0 BYU who has a weak resume” and “9-0 BYU who beat top-ranked Cincinnati but otherwise has a weak resume” to justify the game.
I don’t mean that to say BYU shouldn’t try to make the game happen, they absolutely should. I just don’t know that it has enough upside for it to play a factor in their case for anything beyond a slightly stronger New Years Six Bowl resume.
THE CASE FOR CINCINNATI
Here, the discussion is a little bit different.
Obviously, the chance for the Bearcats to play a top-10 opponent in the regular season would certainly be a boost to their overall body of work. But anyone will tell you that they’re not going to get the same shine on their resume from beating BYU as they would from beating Wisconsin or Florida.
The real question is whether that non-P5-opponent resume boost would be meaningful enough to be worth their while. After a recent tweak to the schedule, December 5th is now a bye week prior to their toughest remaining game against Tulsa. Sacrificing that bye week would seem foolish for Cincinnati to do unless they were sure that they would get a more meaningful boost to their resume from beating the Cougars than they would get from just beating a borderline top-20 Golden Hurricane squad.
The Tulsa game itself could carry less consequence if Cinci and Tulsa secure their places in the AAC title game by then, though both would still be battling for status as the highest-ranked G5 team at a minimum. I would imagine Cincinnati would want to keep an open date before what has become a big game on their schedule, even if it isn’t as big as it could be.
BYU absolutely should be gunning to make this happen, because an athletic director not trying to schedule a great game for his school would just be foolish. Cincinnati would be a great opponent for them to face, but given how tame the rest of their schedule is, a game against #15 Marshall could still wind up as their biggest game, and do just as much for their profile.
For Cincinnati, I don’t see any real reward for them. They’ve not yet peaked in terms of how high they can go, and they’ve not yet run out of “games that could meaningfully boost their resume” like the Cougars have. They would also sacrifice a bye week in order to make the game happen, and it’s a matchup that might happen in bowl season anyway unless one of these two tripped into the CFP.
I get the appeal, and I would tune in to watch the game if it happened, but I think there’s not enough reward for Cincinnati for them to agree to this game.