It felt an almost certainty that we would reach this point with the College Football rankings in 2018. Entering Conference Championship week we have four unbeaten teams. Three of those four currently occupy the top three spots in the rankings. The fourth enters this week ranked eighth and needing help to even be in the playoff discussion. That team who are currently out of the playoffs? Yeah that is the team who also went unbeaten in the whole of last year. UCF Knights.
So let’s take a look at whether the Knights deserve a chance in the playoffs if they win this week.
25 games in a row!
If UCF win this week they will have completed two regular seasons without losing. Add in their Bowl win last year and that would be a 25-0 record over the two years. Now I do not for a second believe the playoff committee should give any credence to last years record because College Football teams can fluctuate a lot year to year. I completely believe this season should be treated on its own merits. However, the reason I mention it is because last year the Knights crowned themselves as co-National Champions. Is that really what we want this year?
Why not just put them in that fourth spot and see what happens. If they get massacred then the argument is over. If they win then good on them and they get to compete for a real National Championship. Either way there will be no fake coronation. They will either win or they will not.
A Major Injury
The college football selection committees job is to pick the best four teams. They do this in order to reward the teams who have played the best but also to try and ensure we see three high quality games in the playoffs. UCF suffered the heart breaking loss of McKenzie Milton to a really horrible looking leg injury. Thankfully Milton appears to be on the road to recovery but it is unknown what he future will be, both within football and just in general. He had to have surgery to restore blood flow and will likely have to undergo reconstructive surgery. I wish him all the best in the coming months and years.
However, his loss does impact the quality of this football team. They are obviously better with him. If we do not see a superb performance from the team, and replacement Darriel Mack Jr. this week does it hurt their case for the playoffs? Rightly or wrongly yes I believe it does. If Mack cannot get that offense clicking against Memphis then it is unlikely a college football playoff game would be anything other than ugly. Honestly I would rather see this team go to a big Bowl Game that they would have a better chance in than getting blown away by Alabama or Clemson.
Is anyone else that good?
Now we break down their rivals for that fourth spot. For now lets leave Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame alone and focus on the other four. Georgia (#4) have only lost one game this year, to LSU, and I think perhaps rightly they are ranked fourth, even though frankly that ranking means nothing. If they beat Alabama this week they absolutely deserve to be in the playoffs. If they lose then the probably do not. It is all-or-nothing based on this game and I think that is fair.
Oklahoma (#5) and Ohio State (#6) both only have one loss and have had important statement wins. Oklahoma’s only loss comes to a good Texas team, currently ranked 14th, and they are fun to watch. However, they now need to take revenge on Texas in their title game or they do not deserve that #4 spot. Ohio State suffered an embarrassing loss to Purdue but then have had a couple of impressive wins. Their conference championship opponent is not great but that win against Michigan was a statement. Are they more likely to compete with Alabama than UCF? It is not guaranteed but they will be a one loss winner of a Power-5 conference.
Michigan (#7) are kind of irrelevant to the conversation because if UCF win they should probably jump them this week. This ranking to me suggests the committee wants to see what UCF have without Milton.
Strength of Schedule
This is the biggest swing point for me. Last week against USF they showed the UCF strength of schedule prior to that game and it was outside of the top-100. I believe it was 104th out of 113 teams. That is bad. If you go unbeaten against that schedule and make the playoffs while teams with harder schedules miss out because of one loss what does that say to the other teams? Don’t schedule marquee out of conference matchups, just beat up and bad teams and we will let you in. It sets a dangerous precedent.
So how bad is UCFs strength of schedule. If we use the SB nation method of using a statistics called S&P+ to calculate how a top five team would do against your schedule they rank 95th with a 0.92 winning percentage. The other unbeaten teams rank 35th (Alabama), 61st (Notre Dame) and 79th (Clemson). The other four teams above UCF are 33rd (Georgia), 71st (Oklahoma), 49th (Ohio State) and 27th (Michigan). So UCF has the worst strength of schedule there but is it really that significant compared to Clemson and Oklahoma who could both make it?
UCF have only beaten one currently ranked team and have one win against a team in a conference championship. Unfortunately that win is against the ACC Central Division which was won by a 7-5 Pitt team. It does not really help them. The only way that win looks impressive is if Pitt somehow upset Clemson this week in the championship game. Then we might be looking at things a little differently. For now that strength of schedule is a major issue and the precedent it sets is a bigger issue.
The Final Word
Ultimately I think allowing a team into the playoffs with a strength of schedule among the worst 20 in the league does too much harm long term. However, if by some chance Georgia, Oklahoma and Ohio State all lose and UCF win then I just think you have to let them in. All of those teams would have two more losses than UCF and the chance to have four unbeaten teams in the playoffs would be too good to pass up. If that was to happen at least we could get some closure on how good UCF can be. The issue is that there will always be the what if we had Milton case. I would love to see four unbeaten teams in the playoffs and I hope if it happen UCF give a good account of themselves. Whatever happens if they win this week they will always have a 25 game run and potentially two unbeaten seasons to celebrate!
Image credit: Orlando Sentinel