The University of Cincinnati football team has made history.
The 13-member College Football Playoff selection committee released its final Top 25 rankings of the season Sunday, and the Bearcats were No. 4.
"Obviously this is a really exciting time for a lot of us," said Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell, who found out about the ranking while hosting an appreciation brunch for the team's seniors inside a suite at Nippert Stadium. "It's kind of unique that we're downstairs with 30-something seniors and their families to be able to have this moment and this time and this little bit of a celebration. I don't think I could have asked for anybody else I'd rather do it with."
Cincinnati (13-0), the only remaining undefeated team in the FBS, is the first team outside of the Power Five conferences to secure a spot in the College Football Playoff since its inception in 2014.
"A lot of people doubted," Fickell said. "I think that's where the gratification comes. I don't want to say you're satisfied, but just to see them, the gratification of believing in what we said. 'Hey, don't worry about what the outside says. Don't worry about the style of things. We know we've got to find a way to play our best ball at the end of the year. If you take care of business, I can't promise you, but I promise things will take care of themselves.'"
Fickell said the Bearcats haven't been and still aren't representing the entire Group of Five. The American Athletic Conference Coach of the Year, who is 48-14 in five seasons at UC (22-1 since the start of the 2020 season), said Cincinnati finally breaking through the glass CFP ceiling doesn't change anything.
"In my mind, there's still not a difference, meaning there's a lot of teams that have a very small percent chance of getting into the four-team playoff, and we're happy to be one of them," he said. "But nonetheless, it's us. We're not carrying a flag for anybody but the UC Bearcats, our community, our campus, our university and our city."
Cincinnati graduate cornerback Coby Bryant last month was named a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, presented annually to the top defensive back in college football. Bryant said he is relishing the opportunity to play against the best teams in the country.
"It's a blessing," he said. "This is what you work for from Day One since you were a kid. You want to showcase your talents on the highest level, and whenever you go out there, just make the most of the opportunity and do what you do."
The two semifinal matchups will kick off on New Year's Eve. The Bearcats will play top-ranked Alabama (12-1), the Southeastern Conference champion, in the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas. No. 2 Michigan (12-1), the Big Ten Conference champion, will face No. 3 Georgia, the SEC runner-up, in the Orange Bowl in Miami Gardens, Florida.
Fickell said it's way too soon to be thinking about Nick Saban's Crimson Tide, who have played in every College Football Playoff but one (2019), winning three national championships (2015, '17 and '20) during that span.
"They're pretty good," Fickell said with a laugh. "I'm not going to try to worry a whole lot about that just yet. ... The most important thing is that our guys recognize that they've done something, but now there's another opportunity ahead of them. To me, it's about us. We know the history of what Alabama's done, but that's not what it's going to be about for us. We've got to continue to focus on us just like we've done all year."
Both semifinal games will be broadcast on ESPN. Cincinnati and Alabama will play at 3:30 p.m., followed by Georgia and Michigan at 7:30 p.m.
The winners of the two matchups will play for a national championship Jan. 10 in Indianapolis.
Cincinnati became the first team in program history to improve to 13-0 Saturday with a 35-20 win over then-No. 21 Houston in the American Athletic Conference championship game at Nippert Stadium. It was the Bearcats' third straight appearance in the AAC title game and second straight victory in it.
Cincinnati's defense had eight sacks in the victory, including two by senior linebacker Joel Dublanko.
Junior running back Jerome Ford, an Alabama transfer, rushed for 187 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries for the Bearcats and was named the game's Most Outstanding Player. Senior quarterback Desmond Ridder threw for three touchdowns and improved to 44-5 as a starter (26-0 at home).
"It feels good," Ridder said of being one of the four teams to have a shot at winning a national championship. "Just all of our hard work we've been doing since this offseason, since January, in the cold and in the rain. All my brothers who have just worked their butts off to be in the position where we are now. It's just a blessing. It's going to feel good to go down there and play in Texas."
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: College Football Playoff: Cincinnati No. 4 in committee's final rankings