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

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 after the Sooners were manhandled by No. 18 Baylor, one of two victories Saturday for remaining Big 12 teams over Southeastern Conference-bound flagship schools.

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

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 schedule 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 each other. Maybe twice. And the Cowboys currently look like the better team.

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 because that road victory against No. 7 Notre Dame continues hold its value.

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, seems positioned to hold off a one-loss champion from either the Big 12 or the Atlantic Coast Conference (Wake Forest is still in play for that) if it wins out.

Quick math shows that leaves only three Power Five conferences. One of them is the Pac-12, where Oregon (9-1) is the conference’s only hope.

Unless the SEC or Big Ten puts two in the CFP, who else gets the fourth spot over the unbeaten Bearcats?

NOT-SO-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 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 a high level of success who is willing to switch jobs.

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 body of work in the eyes of potential suitors such as Southern California and LSU?

It was easy to call 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 Franklin. 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 less likely to break the bank to keep Franklin — if necessary.

The odd thing about the Franklin-Penn State relationship right now is there might never be a better time for the two to go 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. Oh, really? Florida (5-5) closes with Missouri and Florida State. Nothing is guaranteed for Mullen. … Kansas beat Texas in overtime with a 2-point conversion on the first possession to end it. For the Jayhawks and first-year coach Lance Leipold, it was the program’s first Big 12 road victory since 2008 (56 straight losses). Texas has lost five straight games for the first time since 1956 and was taunted with “S-E-C” chants by KU fans. … No. 13 Wake Forest needs to beat either Clemson or Boston College on the road to clinch a spot in the ACC title game for the first time since 2006 after knocking off No. 21 North Carolina State. … Mississippi State rallied from 28-3 down to win at Auburn, the biggest comeback in school history. Mike Leach’s Bulldogs have tied a school record with three victories against ranked teams and will have a chance to add one more in what is shaping up as an interesting Egg Bowl against No. 12 Mississippi, which had an impressive defensive effort against No. 11 Texas A&M. … 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. … Oregon State is bowl eligible for the first time since 2013 and UCLA qualified for the postseason for the first time under Chip Kelly … 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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Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.appodcasts.com

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