UCF is off to a 7-0 start this season and now ranked 10th in the most recent AP Top 25 poll, but when the College Football Playoff Selection Committee begins its deliberations next week, there is no reason to expect a significantly better ranking for this team than the one ultimately given to last year’s squad.
The Knights finished off the 2017 regular season with a 12-0 record and an American Athletic Conference title. However, even that was not enough to get UCF any serious consideration for a spot in the playoff last year as the Knights never got higher than 12th in the CFP Rankings. They finished behind every Power Five conference school with two or fewer losses and even one with three losses – the Auburn team that UCF eventually defeated in the Peach Bowl.
The problem UCF had last year is the same one it has this season, which is its strength of schedule … or lack thereof. None of the Knights’ first seven opponents this season currently have a record better than .500. Four of their five remaining opponents do, however, if one assumes UCF makes the AAC Championship Game again.
At most, UCF will likely have played just one team that is ranked in the final CFP Rankings at the end of the season, just as it did in 2017. Also like last season, it had a game canceled due to a hurricane. In each case, that was a game against an ACC foe but not one that would have helped UCF’s strength of schedule in the eyes of the committee.
If a Group of Five team is ever going to make the CFP, it will need a nonconference schedule that gets the committee’s attention. Simply having a Power Five conference team or two on its slate is not good enough. Not all Power Five teams are good. For example, a team would be much better off playing Appalachian State this season than Rutgers.
vs. SC State
at North Carolina
at East Carolina
at South Florida
Before each season begins, it is relatively simple to identify which Group of Five teams have the talent and the schedule to possibly make a run at a playoff spot. So far, the only team that could say that was Houston in 2016. That season, the Cougars had nonconference games against two teams that would ultimately finish in the top 15 of the final CFP Rankings.
Led by quarterback Greg Ward and defensive lineman Ed Oliver, Houston had a chance to run the table and make a solid case for inclusion in the playoff. The Cougars were able to beat both Oklahoma and Louisville, but unfortunately, they could not navigate their conference schedule unscathed and ended up 9-3, third place in their division. Had that Houston team been able to go 13-0, it would have had a good case for inclusion in the playoff.
UCF has been on an incredible run over the last two seasons, especially when you consider that the Knights finished 0-12 in 2015 and changed coaches this past offseason. But as much as everyone admires that — myself included — UCF will not play a team of the caliber of the 2016 versions of Oklahoma or Louisville in or out of conference this season.
And that is why, no matter how much fuss is made of its potential exclusion, UCF will not get serious consideration for the playoff.
Cue the complaints …
“Nobody wants to play us.” You have to do what it takes to get the games you need. If that means playing on the road, then play on the road. If you still cannot get those games, then you have to absolutely lay waste to the schedule you have. Zero off days. Zero close calls. Leave no doubt.
“We beat Auburn last year.” Last year does not count. This season’s team is not the same. It will be judged by the committee on what it does in 2018, not 2017. UCF does have an admirable 20-game winning streak, but as far as the committee is concerned, only the last seven matter.
“They are biased against non-Power Five teams.” The committee is biased toward relative dominance against strong schedules. It is true that not many teams outside the Power Five conferences will be able to demonstrate that.
Until we get a playoff that is large enough to accommodate all of the teams that would be capable of winning a playoff, programs like UCF are going to have to figure out ways to get the schedule they need to legitimize their argument. It is not a perfect system, but it is the one we have.
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