Gus Malzahn hasn't coached a game at UCF but he's already won. And the win is the biggest news Malzahn can deliver as UCF heads into its biggest recruiting weekend maybe ever.
When news broke(first reported by Nicole Auerbach of the Athletic) that the College Football Playoff is likely expanding to 12 teams, Malzahn sent out a tweet "game changer" with a pic of a UCF jersey with the number 12 on it.
When Malzahn was hired at UCF he was asked about P5 vs G5 labels and how he could convince recruits to turn down those power brands and to come play at UCF. He answered by saying "I don't care about labels, we want to be one of the best programs in the country. We will determine what we are, not anyone else."
And the news of the expanded playoff in many ways crumbled the labels of non-P5 schools. The model, awaiting formal approval, calls for the highest ranked six conference champions to earn a playoff berth and six at-large teams. In the last seven seasons, AAC champions would have made a 12-team playoff five times- two times UCF would have made the field.
In 2017, UCF's undefeated ride saw then AD Danny White stand alone preaching why the Knights deserved a spot in the four-team invitational and had as much a right to claim a national title as anyone. And then UCF stretched a win streak to 25 with another unbeaten regular season. There is no doubt that two-year run played a role in getting the dialogue turned up about expanding the playoff and providing greater access to non P5 teams
The new model gives UCF, and fellow AAC members Cincinnati, Memphis and others, a clear formula- win the league and go undefeated. If you do, you're in. Heck, it's possible you could go 12-1 with a quality P5 victory and win the league and get in.
Gus Malzahn knows getting to the playoff at UCF just got a lot easier than it did for most P5 schools. Think about this, every season most P5 teams have no chance of making the playoff. Sure, they could go 13-0 or 12-1 but better than 80% of teams from those leagues don't win 10 games let alone 12 or 13. Did the path get easier for Syracuse, Purdue, Kansas or Washington State? No. Those schools will still deal with the powers in their league and that is what eliminates most of those schools.
For UCF and CIncinnati, there is now a real seat at the table. You know longer need Kirk Herbstreit in your corner telling people how good you are, you just need to win.
But what about the other G5 leagues? What about them? The American has established itself as the sixth best conference and have consistently had teams ranked inside the top 25 and have sent more teams to a New Year's bowl in the playoff era than any other G5 leagues combined. The AAC has established its brand of football and offers the best media package of all G5 leagues and therefore has a huge advantage over the rest.
For Gus Malzahn, he now can truly sell the path to the playoff and why UCF can be a destination for top recruits. Come play in sunny Orlando with a huge fan base on national television and win. And if you win, you will get your shot to play for a national championship. Malzahn preached this when he was introduced and said he expected the playoff to expand. It happened much sooner than later and the new UCF coach already has a huge win before his first game...
A few other thoughts on the new playoff model:
--Notre Dame agreed to this plan knowing they will never get a first round bye or home playoff game but I don't believe it will send the Irish back to the ACC. But think about this, Notre Dame could be the number one team in the country at 12-0 and not get a first round bye. Only conference champions would be eligible for a bye.
--Alabama may never host a playoff game. If the Tide are a top-four conference champion, they get a bye but play their first and all playoff games at a neutral site. Imagine the thought of UCF hosting 2 playoff games in the next five years and Alabama hosting none.
--Surprised the committee will not reseed after the first round. If a 12th seed beats a 5th seed, then that 12th seed would face the 4th seed while the top-seed could face the 8th or 9th seed. This is one to watch moving forward.
--Could a second G5 champ get in? I doubt it. I know many people used last year's rankings to show how Cincinnati and Coastal Carolina would have made the playoff. Remember 2017 and 2018 how the committee slowed UCF's rise in their rankings? My guess is, the committee will be cognisant of any scenario that would have a second G5 champ/team get inside the top 12.
--I would look for all but maybe the SEC to re-evaluate how they get their two teams for a conference title game. Why would any league want to risk losing a highly ranked team missing the playoffs by losing to an 8-4 team in a title game?
--When will the semifinals and finals be played? I love the idea of playing the quarterfinals on New Year's Day/Eve. But it will be interesting to see when semis and finals will be played. The NFL expanded season goes into mid-January with Saturday games on that week 18 schedule. The NFL plays Saturday games for both the wildcard and divisional playoff rounds.
--What happens to bowls? It appears some will go out of business. Six or seven bowl sites(it's possible one city may have a quarterfinal and final in a season) will host playoff games. But the addition of playoff teams means bowls have fewer teams available. Again, I go back to my suggestion of moving most bowls to the beginning of the season. Play the Rose Bowl game Labor Day night and pit the Big Ten and Pac 12 champs from the previous season.
--Expanded playoff means more interest. It has happened in every sport than expanded its postseason. It keeps more teams and their fans engaged and creates more meaningful games.The current playoff model gave us 8-10 teams in the hunt by the time we reached November. Now, 20-25 teams will have a shot when the final month of the season begins.
Final thought: There were five original bowl games in college football. Most people know of the Rose, Orange, Sugar and Cotton Bowls but the Sun Bowl was also among that first group of games.