No. 6 Cincinnati's defense stepped up in the biggest moments, stopping upset-minded Tulsa twice on goal-line stands in the final two minutes of a 28-20 victory. A critical fumble from Golden Hurrican running back Steven Anderson as he crossed the goal line was recovered by the Bearcats, preserving their ninth straight win to stay unbeaten. 

Still, Cincinnati's path to the College Football Playoff might be backsliding. 

"One of the problems teams like Cincinnati have with the College Football Playoff Selection Committee is that its schedule is worse than the teams it's competing against for a spot in the top four. That means style points mean more for the Bearcats, but more to the point, they need to look like a playoff team every time they take the field," said CBS Sports bowls expert Jerry Palm. "There is really no margin for error. In the last few weeks, they haven't done that, and it's hurting them."

Cincinnati had plenty of opportunities to put Tulsa away. At the beginning of the fourth quarter and up 28-12, the Bearcats had the ball at their own 32-yard line, but went three and out. Then, after a great defensive stand, Heisman hopeful quarterback Desmond Ridder fumbled the ball on the first play to give Tulsa another chance. 

The Golden Hurricane outgained Cincinnati 457-390, rushed for 5.2 yards per carry and posted 297 total rushing yards against the Bearcats' elite rushing defense. Tulsa can be a tricky opponent, but there's no excuse for a team that hopes to be in the playoff sleepwalking through a third straight game. 

The last time Cincinnati beat a team convincingly was on Oct. 16 against UCF. Otherwise, it's been a series of close calls. A win over top-10 Notre Dame continues to age well, but it might not be enough. 

"After that win, look at who else they've beaten," CFP chair Gary Barta said of Cincinnati on Tuesday. "Look at who else they've played ... I think the Notre Dame win is realized here and shown here by the respect of being sixth in the country, but certainly Navy and Tulane and the rest of their schedule was taken under consideration." 

The CFP committee did the Bearcats no favors by slotting them at No. 6 in the initial ranking, four spots lower than its placing in the AP Top 25. Despite an undefeated record, it's obvious the committee wants to see more. 

Tulsa was a rare opportunity for Cincinnati to check one of the committee's boxes: common opponent. The Golden Hurricane gave No. 5 Ohio State fits during an early season matchup. After the Buckeyes played a sluggish game against Nebraska, it could have even opened the door for Cincinnati to vault up the rankings. Instead, the performance will go down as more of a detriment. 

In some ways, it's ridiculous that playing good teams and winning every game is not enough to get a shot at a national championship. There is no other sport where winning games isn't enough to earn a chance. Unfortunately, that's not this world of college football. 

The formula for a Group of Five team getting into the playoff rests on three cases: schedule aggressively in hopes of picking up a signature victory; look like a playoff-caliber team every other week; and hope for the best. 

There's no question, the Bearcats are one of the best teams in college football and have NFL-caliber talent at every level of the field. CBS Sports' Josh Edwards rank cornerback Ahmad Gardner a top 20 prospect on his board, while Ridder, defensive lineman Myjai Sanders and running back Jerome Ford are all considered top draft options. The top-end talent makes the crippling inconsistency that much more frustrating. 

Cincinnati has games left against South Florida, SMU and East Carolina before likely playing Houston in the AAC Championship Game. With the rankings already notching UC behind three one-loss teams – two of which have games remaining against ranked opponents – the case may be too late. But if Cincinnati wants to impress the committee and earn an elusive trip to play for a national championship, it has to start performing like a playoff team every single week.