UCF isn’t going to make the College Football Playoff this year. That’s not a statement I’m making because I believe the Knights will lose a game, nor is it one related to an opinion that they don’t deserve a spot in the top four if they finish undefeated. It’s a prediction based on what the College Football Playoff Selection Committee told us on Tuesday night with its initial rankings.
If you read between the lines of the first CFP Rankings of 2018, it’s clear what the committee thinks of the Group of Five, and it’s not much.
Initially, we saw that UCF was ranked No. 12 in the rankings, which is higher than any Group of Five team has been ranked in the first set of rankings in the CFP’s short history. That seemed like a good sign for the Knights, who now hold a 21-game winning streak after beating Temple 52-40 on Thursday night, but it may not be UCF’s ranking that matters in the grand scheme of things.
I noticed a trend when looking at the CFP rankings, and it’s one that echoes what Jerry Palm wrote at CBSSports.com last week before the rankings were released.
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.
So what’s the trend I discovered? Well, in the latest CFP rankings, 13 of the 25 teams are undefeated or have one loss. That’s in line with how things have looked the last couple of years, but it’s a big change to how the initial CFP rankings looked in 2014 and 2015.
Furthermore, while there are 13 teams with no more than one loss in the rankings, there are 20 remaining on the FBS level. And all seven of those unranked one-loss teams come from Group of Five conferences: Buffalo, Cincinnati, Georgia Southern, Houston, South Florida, UAB and Utah State. None of those teams are ranked while there are currently three three-loss teams from Power Five conferences currently ranked in No. 18 Mississippi State, No. 20 Texas A&M and No. 24 Iowa State.
And this led me to wonder how many three-loss teams had shown up in the initial CFP rankings during the past five seasons. Well, the answer doesn’t bode well for UCF.
That’s right. Between 2014 and 2017, there had been one three-loss team in the first set of rankings. That team was Florida State, which checked in at No. 22 with a 5-3 record in 2016. The Seminoles would finish the season 10-3, beating Michigan in the Orange Bowl.
This season there are three of them. The point of this isn’t to argue whether or not Mississippi State, Texas A&M or Iowa State deserve to be ranked ahead of any of those unranked Group of Five teams. I’m just trying to figure out what this means for UCF since it’s the only Group of Five team with real playoff hopes.
And what having a 4-3 Iowa State team in the rankings ahead of a 7-1 Houston or a 7-1 Utah State tells me is that not even chaos can save UCF. Before the season I thought that if UCF went undefeated yet again, and we had a couple of two-loss Power Five champions, then maybe UCF could finagle its way into the top four. I no longer think that’s the case.
Based on this first set of rankings, it seems crystal clear that a two-loss Power Five champion would be selected for the playoff over a 13-0 UCF.
Whether that’s fair or right is up for debate, but it’s the reality of the situation, and that isn’t.
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