The Cincinnati Bearcats take on the SMU Mustangs. Check out our college football odds series for our Cincinnati SMU prediction and pick.

The Cincinnati Bearcats won't make the College Football Playoff this year, but they can still win the Group of Five championship and make back-to-back appearances in New Year's Six bowls, which would be a terrific accomplishment if they can pull it off.

This is a huge game because Cincinnati stands at 5-1 and has a chance to finish with a 12-1 record. If the Bearcats do that, they will be the Group of Five representative in a New Year's Six bowl game, most likely the Cotton. Even if Cincinnati finishes 11-2, the Bearcats might still have a good enough profile to get that Cotton Bowl ticket. This year's Group of Five is noticeably weak. The Mountain West and Mid-American Conferences have beaten each other up. Thursday night, South Alabama — a team which had a chance to make some noise in the Sun Belt and change the conversation in the Group of Five title chase — lost at home to the Troy Trojans. The Sun Belt had a great early start to the season but has since come down to earth. The Group of Five championship battle is most likely a three-way race involving Cincinnati, Tulane, and UCF, all with no more than one loss at the midpoint of the season. Every degree of leverage matters in this race. Cincinnati needs to keep pace. A loss here would remove all margin for error for coach Luke Fickell's squad, which has not lost an AAC game yet in 2022 but dropped its season opener at Arkansas. The Bearcats do not want to put themselves under even more pressure heading into November. The season is arduous enough as it is.

SMU has had a wild, up-and-down season in coach Rhett Lashlee's first year at the helm of the program. Lashlee is a well-traveled coach who has served as an offensive coordinator to Gus Malzahn (now the coach of UCF) at Auburn, to Manny Diaz at Miami, and at other stops along the way. He finally has attained a head coaching position. He is receiving an education in Year 1, learning just how difficult it is to lead a program to the top of the mountain. SMU has lost to Maryland, TCU and UCF this season, all games in which it allowed 34 or more points. The Mustangs played cupcakes in their first few games of the season, and those contests did not challenge this team to the extent it needed. The UCF game unraveled for SMU. It was a 22-point defeat at the hands of a UCF team which lost at home to Louisville earlier in the season. UCF played its best game and SMU didn't have answers. Can the Ponies dust themselves off and significantly elevate their level of play? That's exactly what they will need to do if they want to beat Cincinnati and shake up the Group of Five race.

Here are the Cincinnati-SMU NCAA Football Odds, courtesy of FanDuel. 

College Football Odds: Cincinnati-SMU Odds

Cincinnati Bearcats: -3.5 (-110)

SMU Mustangs: +3.5 (-110)

Over: 59.5 (-115)

Under: 59.5 (-105)

Why Cincinnati Could Cover the Spread

The SMU defense simply does not inspire much of any confidence right now. The Mustangs have lacked answers on that side of the ball for several weeks. It's hard to expect the Ponies to suddenly improve their level of play.

Why SMU Could Cover the Spread

Cincinnati isn't remotely close to last year's playoff team in terms of quality. If this game becomes difficult and stressful, does Cincinnati — a team which barely beat South Florida at home earlier this season — have the chops to make pressure plays in the fourth quarter? It's not clear UC has what it takes.

Final Cincinnati-SMU Prediction & Pick

Cincinnati does not have an elite team this year, but its offense should be able to get what it wants against SMU's leaky defense. SMU's offense can't afford to make any mistakes. The margins are much smaller for the Mustangs than the Bearcats.

Final Cincinnati-SMU Prediction & Pick: Cincinnati -3.5