New Year’s is coming up, the time of year when we all look back on the current calendar and look ahead to the future. Most people spend it with someone, sharing past memories and creating new ones. But for the second year in a row there is a prominent figure that is left without the dance partner they hoped for…the University of Central Florida has once again been left out of the College Football Playoffs.
To give you a quick recap on UCF (University of Central Florida), they currently hold a 25 game winning streak, the longest in the nation, and are ranked #8 in the country. However despite the historic streak and national recognition for a second straight fall, the Knights were not chosen as one of the four teams to battle it out on the field for the right to be called National Champion.
This topic is a room divider. Fans of the Power 5 schools (the big programs in football) argue that UCF doesn’t deserve a chance because they don’t play the same hard in-conference schedule that the Power 5 teams do. Fans of UCF will gladly point out that they have beaten the big boys when given the chance, like last year when they demolished Auburn in the Peach Bowl. The true answer, as things typically happen in life, lies somewhere in the middle.
It is true that UCF does not face the same difficult teams on a weekly basis within their conference as the Power 5 teams. Temple, Cincinnati, Memphis, and Houston do not strike the same fear into foes as does Georgia, Michigan, Texas, Pittsburgh, or Washington State. But let’s not forget that the Power 5 schools are NOT facing those type of teams on a weekly basis either. Teams like Louisville, Kansas, Illinois, Arkansas, and Oregon State would likely not be any better within the American Athletic Conference as they are in their current Power 5 conference.
In fact outside of the upper echelon teams in the SEC and Big 10, you are looking at only a handful of roller coaster teams (teams that may look great one week and disappoint the next) with the rest being below average teams. A closer look at Alabama’s schedules shows they played Louisville, Arkansas State, Louisiana (NOT LSU), Arkansas, Tennessee, and The Citadel. Those six teams, half of their schedule, went a combined 29-44 this year with 15 of those wins coming from lower level Arkansas State and The Citadel. So while Alabama is a machine and destroys their opponents, don’t tell me that they face a gauntlet schedule each week. The same can be said for any of the top teams in the Power 5 conferences; from Ohio State playing Oregon State, Rutgers, and Tulane to Clemson facing Furman, Georgia State, and Wake Forest.
I am not saying that UCF playing in a Power 5 conference would not be more difficult for them. But I am saying that the Power 5 conferences are not a weekly gauntlet as many may have you think.
UCF has won 25 games, which is impressive no matter what conference you are in. The current streak that the Knights are on is the 22nd longest streak in the history of NCAA football….All-Time. Now consider that this is a program that went 0-12 as recently as 2015, and that is truly a historic turn-around.
Defenders of the Power 5 schools will say well UCF can’t control their conference games but they can play their non-conference games against Power 5 teams. Yes, they could. And they have. Since 2010 UCF has played schools like Georgia, Boston College, Missouri, Ohio State, Penn State, South Carolina, Stanford, Michigan, Auburn, and Pittsburgh. The problem they are facing now is that since they have turned the program around the Power 5 schools will not play them anymore. Schools like Florida have supposedly offered to play a 2-for-1 series against them, meaning UCF would play two games at Florida and one at UCF. Oh how nice of Florida, the same the school that avoids playing in-state games against Miami, to throw UCF a bone. But outside of the home field advantage, a 2-for-1 overlooks the fact that a series like that would also mean millions of additional money going to Florida or whatever schools holds that additional home game. And we all know that today, money is a driving force in any discussion of college athletics.
UCF may not be able to beat any of the four teams in the playoffs. Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma are legit powers. However that should not preclude a team like UCF getting their shot. They have the longest active winning streak, have shown they CAN beat teams of that caliber (like last year defeating Auburn who was the only team to beat national champion Alabama last year), and are taking care of what is in front of them. Remember football is played on the field and the best talent doesn’t always win; the best team does. So what does UCF do next? Continue to try to schedule Power 5 schools and take advantage of the chances they do get; like their next game against LSU in the Fiesta Bowl on January 1st. UCF may not have the dance partner they wanted but they might as well get up and tear up the dance floor, and in the process tear down the wall separating the Power 5 conferences from the rest of college football.