The College Football Playoff has a problem. It’s got nothing to do with revenue, nor does it have to do with the four talented teams that will ultimately be selected to compete in the playoff. No, the College Football Playoff’s big problem is its utter disrespect for non-Power Five schools.
Look, I get it. Yes, Power Five schools face tougher competition throughout the season and yes, they do tend to be more talented. However, it’s those years where some non-Power Five program excels, potentially finishing undefeated, and is nowhere to be found in the College Football Playoff.
College football had this same problem four years ago in the BCS era, but it was a matter of just two teams duking it out for a national championship as opposed to four teams getting that chance. At that time, teams like Boise State and TCU were perennially disrespected even though they proved they could hang with and beat Power Five programs.
Conference realignment, such as TCU moving to the Big 12, and the implementation of a four-team College Football Playoff were supposed to give mid-major programs like that a chance to get into the playoff. However, since the playoff’s inception in the 2014-15 season, not a single non-Power Five school has made it onto the biggest stage in college football.
This year is the CFP’s fourth installment, and the four teams that make it likely will each be from Power Five conferences. For the 2017-18 season, that means there could be a huge snub for a team in a non-Power Five conference and in this case, that snub is unquestionably the UCF Knights.
The currently undefeated Knights, who play in the American Athletic Conference, are so ridiculously good and it’s not even funny. Their offensive efficiency is off the charts, led by sophomore quarterback McKenzie Milton who completes 70 percent of his passes and dissects defenses with ease.
UCF also has multiple offensive threats at both the running back and receiver positions, giving Milton several options to go to on any given drive. The Knights’ offense is absolutely explosive and can break free for a score in a moments’ notice, pretty clearly indicated by their No. 1 ranking in the nation with over 49 points per game. UCF’s passing offense ranks 11th with 325.5 yards per game and their rushing offense ranks 26th with 214.9 yards per game. Not too shabby.
Clearly, that kind of offense has enough talent to hang with the best in the nation. Don’t like the Knights’ strength of schedule? Well, the mighty Alabama has the 67th ranked strength of schedule, not too far ahead of UCF at 83. So what about their defense?
Well, the Knights’ defense isn’t anything to scoff at either. It’s actually pretty darn good, as UCF ranks 22nd in the nation in defensive efficiency. Their detractors could argue that they don’t face good teams and that’s why their defense looks so good, but the eye test would tell you otherwise.
The Knights have three huge defensive linemen that can stuff the run and force pressure on the opposing quarterback. The linemen are able to draw multiple blockers, leaving space for UCF’s linebackers to wreak havoc on the backfield. Their secondary has been solid as well, although they have had a penchant for giving up the occasional big play or two. This defensive unit is not to be trifled with, and could probably hang with the likes of an Auburn, Washington or even Clemson, all teams that are currently found ahead of UCF in the CFP rankings.
In all likelihood, barring two losses to close the year, UCF has earned their spot in a New Year’s Six Bowl. That’s an honor, no doubt about it, and something that Scott Frost and his program will surely be happy with. The Knights probably didn’t expect to be doing nearly this well, but I can’t help but think that they’ll be getting jibbed by the CFP selection committee given the kind of season they’ve had. I mean, UCF was just ranked No. 18 in the latest CFP rankings heading into Saturday, which is absolutely ridiculous.
And that is 100 percent because the Knights play in the American Athletic Conference, arguably the sixth best conference in the NCAA in the two major-revenue sports of football and basketball. The American likes to call itself a Power Six conference, but that’s really just a petty move to try and feel included among the major conferences. In reality, the American definitely does not compete with the other major conferences in overall talent or revenue (sorry, Mike Aresco).
I understand that the CFP selection committee only has four teams it can put in the playoff and I understand the desire that people have to put big names in those spots. But when it comes at the expense of a smaller program like UCF that deserves recognition, or at least the respect to be ranked fairly among the Power Five teams, then it’s pretty clear that the College Football Playoff has a problem.
I don’t know necessarily how to fix that problem, whether it is remedied by expanding the playoff to six or eight teams (at the absolute maximum), or by diversifying the selection committee to include more non-Power Five representatives. What I do know for certain is that somehow, someway, the College Football Playoff committee needs to reconsider view on non-Power Five programs.