Know Your Foe: The Civil ConFLiCT, No. 18 UCF

In this Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, file photo, UCF head coach Scott Frost works the sidelines in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Cincinnati in Cincinnati. No. 15 UCF is undefeated and SMU is already bowl eligible going into the first weekend in November. The high-scoring American Athletic Conference teams now go head-to-head. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

When the college football powers that be introduced the College Football Playoff in 2013, it was supposed to level the playing field for schools in mid-major conferences, making it easier for their teams to get a fair shot. After all, it did offer four spots to the BCS Championship’s two, theoretically allowing more chances to non-power conferences.

This was somewhat of a relief for mid-major schools during a tumultuous time. The biggest non-power conference, the Big East, was crumbling and the Big 12, American Athletic Conference and Big 10 were feasting on its remains. Louisville, Syracuse and Pitt fled to the ACC. West Virginia went to the Big 12, and Rutgers to the Big 10.

The leftovers, including South Florida, UCF, Cincinnati and UConn joined the burnt-out husk of the old Big East, the ACC. The one hope for teams that missed out on the realignment lottery was the promise of a spot in the College Football Playoff.

In the third year of the new system, it now seems impossible. Bias against mid-major conferences is practically inherent in the system. Of the 13 members of the committee that determine the playoff rankings, only two had major roles in mid-major programs. The rest are athletic directors or former coaches at Power Five schools.

This bias has shown in the playoff rankings repeatedly over the years. In 2014, Memphis ranked as high as No. 13 in week nine at 8-0, still the highest ranking ever reached by a non-power conference team in the poll. In 2016, Western Michigan was undefeated in the regular season, won their conference championship game and still only reached No. 15 in the poll at 13-0.

This year, UCF is a top-10 team in the nation, and history says they don’t have a chance at the College Football Playoff. According to the S&P+ rankings, a system that accounts for every play and every drive from every college football game, the UCF Knights are the fifth-best team in the country.

UCF has shown virtually no weakness in their schedule, blowing out Maryland by 28 when they still had a decent quarterback and dropping 40 on Memphis, the best team in the AAC West.

Their two closest games, against Navy (31-21) and SMU (31-24), were both tough road tests against good teams, and given the box scores, S&P+ expected them to win both games over 90 percent of the time.

The key to UCF’s massive success this year is their world-eating offense. The Knights boast the most explosive offense in the country, averaging 0.65 points per play, and the second-most efficient offense in the country, averaging 7.9 yards per play.

Quarterback McKenzie Milton is playing like a Heisman candidate, with 2,409 yards and 20 touchdowns on the year. Milton is second in the country in completion percentage, passer rating and yards per pass attempt, but he’s not just a pocket passer either. Offensive coordinator Troy Walters gets him out on the read option a fair amount, and he averaged 6.8 yards per carry with three touchdowns on the year.

And he’s not the only one. Adrian Killins Jr. might be the most underrated running back in the country. He’s a small, speedy back in the vein of D’Anthony Thomas, and he’s averaging 8.6 yards per carry, good enough for fourth in the nation in that category.

UCF’s receiving corps is led by Tre’Quan Smith, who has 641 yards receiving on the year. Milton really spreads the ball out though, and six different players have had over 20 targets so far this season.

UCF also boasts a very solid defensive unit that is adept at stopping big plays, ranking 17th in the country in points per play and 37th in the country in yards per play. The unit is led by senior outside linebacker Shaquem Griffin, who leads the team in tackles for loss with 5.5 and sacks with two.

With numbers like that, it’ll be tough for UConn to steal a win on the road at UCF this coming Saturday.


Luke Swanson is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus.  He can be reached via email at luke.swanson@uconn.edu.