Ever since the first College Football Playoff poll was released during the 2017 season, Tuesday nights have had a pattern of apprehension followed by outbursts of anger and frustration by the fan base of the UCF Knights. The Black and Gold have been ranked 18, 18, 15, 15, and 14, respectively, despite owning an undefeated record that only grows more impressive by the week as the other teams sporting perfect records continue to fall. Still, the College Football Playoff Committee remains unimpressed. The widespread perception that schools in the Power 5 conferences are just better than schools in the Group of 5 conferences remains stronger than ever. While it can be debated that the gap between P5 and G5 schools is overblown, not even this UCF homer can defend the strength of schedule argument, especially when it comes to non-conference games for the Knights. Fair or not, Hurricane Irma did a number on this with the washout of the Georgia Tech game. Even if UCF has that game on the schedule and wins it, the Knights may only be 13 or 12 in the CFP at this stage. As for the rest of the schedule, FIU outperformed what they were supposed to do and it’s not necessarily UCF’s fault that Maryland stunk this year. The makeup game with Austin Peay was a necessary evil and at least made the Knights some money while padding another win.
So herein lies the problem for G5 schools like UCF, Memphis, Boise State, BYU, and others with aspirations of playing in the CFP: they’re told to play better teams but most legitimate P5 schools don’t want to play them. There is too much for an Auburn or Clemson to lose at the end of the day and not enough to gain unless they know for certain that UCF is projected to be a consistent resident in the Top 25 . Looking at the history with Boise State, they really only started getting to play the big dogs during the regular season when they were a perennial top 10 team. An athletic director like UCF’s Danny White should be more open to one-and-done road games against P5 programs so that the Knights have more opportunities to prove themselves; however, I understand his dilemma of wanting to also create revenue for his football program with another home game on the slate.
This brings us to my ultimate suggestion: the top G5 schools needs to start playing each other annually! G5 schools that want more respect cannot afford to keep scheduling FCS programs. It’s more or less a wasted game on the schedule as the attendance of those games is usually poor and a win over a team like Austin Peay or South Carolina State does next to nothing to impress the people who vote on this stuff. Win or lose, college football is an entertainment business. Therefore, stop scheduling cupcakes and start doing what is within your control. The following are 8 programs that Danny White should seriously consider replacing FCS and lower-tier FBS schools with in order to improve both attendance and strength of schedule:
Boise State: Who wouldn’t want a home-and-home with the former Cinderella darlings of college football? Many amongst UCF Nation would make the trip to Idaho for a chance to see UCFast run around on the Smurf Turf. This would also be a good measuring stick game of “are we truly the best G5 school or not?”
Air Force: UCF fans ate up the trip to Navy this season as it was their first road game against a service academy in school history. The Falcons feature a triple-option attack and are usually pretty good as evidenced by their 11 bowl appearances since the turn of the century. Now, if UCF is going to play Air Force, they ought to go ahead and schedule a future series with…
Army: A joke on the football field for many years, the Black Knights are going bowling for the second consecutive season. As well as being a solid non-conference opponent, you better believe this would be one of the better attended games by opposing fans.
BYU: The Knights drew 41,547 while hosting the Cougars in 2014 during a midweek overtime thriller (UCF won 31-24). While down this season, the Cougars usually field a formidable program and are regularly mentioned in Big 12 expansion talks. A road trip to Provo would be an experience as well for those that didn’t get to do so in 2012.
Fresno State: UCF just doesn’t typically make trips to California, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t start doing so. Much like the Knights, the Broncos have completed an amazing turnaround, going from 1-11 in 2016 to 9-3 with a chance to knock Boise State back to back weeks to win the Mountain West Conference.
San Diego State: Speaking of California, the Aztecs were 10-2 in 2017 with wins over Arizona State and Stanford. They have won 10 games or more 3 years in a row. Much like UCF, their fanbase would love to garner more respect. This year especially, I’m sure they would love to have had played the Knights instead of a meaningless home opener against UC Davis. Aside from the opponent, a trip to San Diego would be cool for Knights fans (everyone says it’s the nicest trip to make in California) and a trip to Orlando would have a similar impact for the Aztecs.
Toledo: Nine wins or more for 4 years and counting, the Rockets would a fun non-conference opponent to play so long as the Knights remain a high-scoring program. I know, the thought of playing a MAC team might not appeal to many, but I think we’d all rather play Toledo than Austin Peay.
UNLV: Road trip to Vegas. Enough said!
By no means does playing another quality G5 school solve the CFP problem, but it certainly couldn’t hurt. Ultimately, if schools like UCF, San Diego State, and Boise State aren’t going to get in, we need to be entertained. Isn’t that part of what we’re protesting for anyways when it comes to the CFP? We want to see our team play the best of the best. If we can’t schedule Georgia or Alabama unless we’re lucky enough to play them in a bowl game, let’s at least have better games on our regular season non-conference slates to keep things exciting. Who knows, two great Group of 5 teams squaring off might turn out to be the game of the year in 2018. It certainly already turned out that way in 2017 and the ratings backed it up.