In UCF's undefeated 2017 season, the Knights were 17th in the College Football Playoff first rankings that season. After week 12, they were just 14th sitting at 11-0. A double-overtime win over Memphis sent UCF to the Peach Bowl and the committee was still not impressed as the Knights finished 12th in the final rankings. There was never a debate about UCF for the College Football Playoff and most viewed it as a nice season by G5 team with a loud fan base voicing their opinion on Twitter.
Five years later, UCF may be seeing the value of building a brand. Despite a home loss to Navy last weekend, the committee- composed of different members than those who voted on UCF teams from 2017 and 2018- dropped the Knights just two spots to 22nd. That ranking, ahead of Cincinnati(24th) and behind Tulane(19th), positions UCF to now make the AAC title game if they can beat South Florida Saturday in Tampa. The winner of the Tulane-Cincinnati game will host the title game and the second highest ranked team in the league will be the opponent. A win by UCF puts them in the title game since they are already ranked in this week's CFP rankings and that is the tiebreaker used in a three-way tie if the tied teams did not all play each other.
It turns out UCF's wins over Cincinnati and Tulane are a huge advantage when it comes to comparing resumes.
The Knights have two wins over teams in the CFP rankings and Louisville- a team that handed UCF their first loss- is now 25th and that also adds to the strength of schedule for UCF. Tulane has an impressive road win at Kansas St and the loss to UCF among games against top 25 teams. Cincinnati's resume includes no wins or games against teams in the top 25. The Arkansas game, where the Bearcats battled and almost won, did not end up helping their resume since the Razorbacks are 6-5.
In fact, UCF's resume of who they have beaten and who they have played stacks up with a few other teams in the CFP rankings. North Carolina just lost to Georgia Tech, a team UCF beat, and the Tar Heels have no other game against a CFP ranked team. Penn State has played two games against CFP ranked teams and lost both games to Ohio State and Michigan. Heck, even Michigan- who plays against second ranked Ohio State in a matchup of 11-0 teams- has played one game against a CFP ranked team and beat Penn State.
There are many unhappy Sun Belt Conference fans who believe they have three teams worthy of being ranked. Coastal Carolina sits 9-1 and is ranked 23rd in the AP Poll. Troy and South Alabama sit at 9-2 and also can claim they deserve a spot in the CFP top 25. But the schedule and metrics matter to the committee. All three of those Sun Belt teams have combined for zero wins against CFP ranked teams. Troy lost to Ole Miss earlier in the season and South Alabama got beat late at UCLA. But they have no wins and those are the only games they played all season against CFP ranked teams.
When it comes to comparing the American trio of UCF, Cincinnati and Tulane against the Sun Belt three in metrics like strength of schedule, strength of record and game control- the AAC teams are better across the board.
But why did the committee drop UCF just two spots after the Navy loss?
Several factors came into play. The traffic around UCF was busy with several teams in front of the Knights from the previous week losing(North Carolina, UCF and Ole Miss). Texas and Louisville are the only two new teams in the CFP rankings. Oklahoma State and NC State dropped out. Louisville just beat NC State who dropped to 7-4. Oklahoma State lost at Oklahoma and has dropped three of four. UCF has won three of four with two of those wins over ranked teams in Cincinnati and Tulane.
The Playoff Committee does not tell you who sits 26-30 or beyond. But the more you look at who was in the "receiving votes" category in the AP Poll the more the case for UCF could be made. That list features a number of four-loss teams and a few teams with as many wins or one more than UCF but without the wins against CFP ranked teams.
If you are a UCF fan you give the committee credit for digging into the resumes and using the metrics to put their rankings together. But there is no question UCF's brand is a factor here. Maybe some on the committee view UCF as a P5 school already with the move to the Big 12 next season. I have said for years the value of UCF's 35 wins from 2017-19 can't be measured for what it has meant to the program and its perception. The Knights are 58-15 dating back to the 2017 season. Some nationally roll their eyes when they hear or are asked to talk about UCF. But the point is they have remained on the radar and the move to the Big 12 added credibility. The perception of TCU and Utah changed when they jumped to P5 leagues. But the success of Cincinnati and UCF have advanced that perception before they enter their new league.
But UCF did lose something in the conference race with that Navy loss. They cannot host the title game and going to Cincinnati or New Orleans and winning will not be easy. And UCF must first focus on their rival this week. Despite being 1-10, South Florida will be ready to ruin UCF's renewed opportunity in the AAC. Rivalry games can be odd and last year's War on I4 is just that example.
This will be the final matchup between the two for the foreseeable future. The paths of the two programs have gone in opposite directions and now UCF needs to end the series with an emphatic win. Then Gus Malzahn's team must do something no UCF team has done, win a conference title game on the road. But despite the Navy loss, the Knights are back in a spot where winning this week and next would send them to a major bowl game- the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.
Whatever the reason is the committee ranked UCF 22nd, they are where they are with a chance to reach their goals. Now they just need to win and then win again...
Final note: White meat is the choice over dark meat when it comes to Turkey. 60% of Americans prefer white meat.