By Eddie Melville
In an ideal world, the UCF Knights football team would be rewarded to the fullest extent for winning all their games. Like any other sport, going undefeated would result in an automatic berth in the playoffs and a chance for the Black and Gold to prove themselves on the biggest stage. Well, it just so happens that the current College Football Playoff (CFP) system is far from ideal and UCF does not control their own destiny aside from winning the American Athletic Conference and hanging a goose egg in the loss column. This goes beyond the obvious bias the CFP committee has against Group of 5 programs like the Knights and the love affair they have with “the big boys.” With that said, it is still fun to speculate on what path could end up being carved out to help UCF achieve glory. The following is an overview of the best possible circumstances the Knights could hope for as it pertains to something completely out of their control—their strength of schedule.
UConn—The Huskies are of no help here. UCF should hope UConn continues being terrible because that means the other teams in the American are getting wins over them.
SC State—no help here either with them being FCS. Move along.
FAU—The Owls are currently 3-3. Running the table to win C-USA would put them at 10-3, giving the Knights a huge boost in SOS. FAU certainly has the talent to do it, but will face a huge obstacle in November when they go on the road to face North Texas.
Pitt—A Panthers upset of #5 Notre Dame this weekend would go a long way to give further credence to the 45-14 blowout UCF enjoyed over these guys 2 weeks ago. If that doesn’t happen, at least winning 6 games to be bowl eligible would be nice.
SMU—The Mustangs are a strange team that Knight fans should be rooting against the rest of the way because of remaining games against Cincinnati, Memphis, and Houston. Beating Tulane, UConn, and Tulsa is acceptable and would help SOS.
Memphis—The Knights’ current goal of going 1-0. This one is likely to be a barn burner! After hopefully losing to UCF, it would be huge if the Tigers could turn around and upset Missouri on the road. Following that up with wins over ECU, Tulsa, and SMU would also be great and ending with a loss to likely ranked Houston to finish 8-4 would be perfect.
East Carolina—The Black and Gold must avoid a let down here and beat the Pirates by at least 4 touchdowns to head into the bye week 7-0. ECU needs to lose to Houston (10/13), Memphis (11/3), and Cincinnati (11/23). Don’t hold your breath but an upset over currently unbeaten NC State in a makeup game (12/1) would be major and give what is likely to be a squad with a losing record two P5 wins this year, proving that even the worst of the American can compete with some of the best teams in the Power 5.
Temple—UCF will be coming off the bye week and could be tempted to look ahead with games against Navy, Cincy, and the Cows looming. If the Owls end up being bowl eligible, that means something went wrong, because that means they would have beaten either the Knights, USF, Houston, Navy, or Cincinnati to get there. Ideally, they lose those 5 and pick up a win over UConn. However, all 5 should be on the lookout, because this is officially the trap team of the American down the stretch.
Navy—The Midshipmen play 13, but their final game against Army takes place after the CFP has already been determined. Wins over Tulane, Tulsa, and Temple would help the Knights’ SOS. An upset over Notre Dams would be amazing, but doesn’t seem likely with how Navy has been playing this year. Wins over Houston and Cincinnati would mess up the last 3 weeks for the Knights.
Cincinnati—Ideally, the Bearcats would be 10-0 or 9-1 with a loss to the Cows at this point. At 9-1, they might still crack the top 25. There is already talk amongst some of this being a College GameDay matchup. Time for the #UCFTwitterMafia to get to work on that!
South Florida—The Cows could be 11-0 or 10-1 entering this one, although 9-2 wouldn’t be awful if Houston and Cincinnati are the two losses; however, if they have 2 losses at this point, they won’t be ranked. A must-win rivalry game every year but much like last year, the East Division and a major bowl game could be at stake.
Houston (projected)—currently 4-1, the Cougars look like the favorite to win the West Division and meet UCF in the conference championship game. Ideally, Houston would be 11-1 or 10-2 at this point, with the only acceptable loss being to USF. They would definitely be ranked at 11-1, but maybe not at 10-2. I prefer they beat USF so that UCF has three games in row against possibly ranked 1 loss schools.
Do back to back undefeated seasons plus these circumstances equal an invite to the College Football Playoff? Sadly, I have my doubts. For one, our overall SOS would still be dragged down by the likes of UConn, ECU, and potentially Temple. Next, the general perception amongst the committee as it regard to the AAC is still probably not favorable. I don’t know how much they really differentiate the American from the rest of the Group of 5 or look closely at how well the AAC has performed against P5 schools. Lastly, teams like Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Notre Dame, and Clemson all have favorable schedules where more than one loss for each team seems unlikely. Putting a team with 2 losses also seems well within the realm of possibilities within this broken system. We’ve already seen Texas leapfrog the Knights after upsetting Oklahoma even though they still carry that ugly loss to Maryland on their resume. If the AP would do that, what is to say the committee wouldn’t?
No matter what the CFP committee decides, the above circumstances would keep the excitement going and put a huge magnifying glass over UCF Football. The Knights already are on ABC this weekend at 4-2 Memphis. If the major networks are already wanting to feature the Knights, can you imagine what the rest of the schedule could look like? Knight Nation would go absolutely berserk if College GameDay came out before our guys played 9-1 Cincinnati. What about driving over to Spectrum West on Black Friday to feast on the 10-1 Cows? Finally, how about projected #1 pick Ed Oliver and 11-1 Houston coming to the Bounce House for another epic conference championship game? The entertainment value goes without saying; winning all three under these circumstances would be even better. If UCF is left out of the CFP at that point, I have a feeling we’d be amongst the first 2 or 3 out, not way back in the pack like last year. This would hurt and the anger meter would be pretty high, but the Knights would also still be at the center of the college football conversation. More and more people across the board would jump on the bandwagon to advocate for a change to the current failure of a playoff system. Perhaps we’ll hit the glass ceiling again or maybe, just maybe, chaos ensues, the “big boys” lose games they never should have lost, and the Knights change college football forever!