By Tom D’Angelo/Palm Beach Post
If you’re tired of the 2017 National Champions banners and license plates, and the boasts of being “the team that beat the team that beat the teams …,” it could get worse later this year.
According to ESPN’s analytical projections, UCF, the woe-is-me program with the little brother complex in the state, is ready for another resurgence … that is if college football returns in 2020.
The Knights have a better chance of making the College Football Playoff than any team in the state, including the Florida Gators, who, realistically, are the only team with a chance of making the CFP in the state this season.
But not according to ESPN.
UCF is 12th in the country when it comes to teams most likely to reach the playoff with a 10-percent chance, according to the playoff predictor. Just below UCF, at No. 13, is Florida with an 8-percent chance. Both have a 1-percent chance of winning the whole thing.
This does not mean UCF is a better team than the Gators. In fact, the Football Power Index released this week has Florida No. 12 and UCF No. 14, which is the highest the FPI ever has ranked the Knights. The previous high was 37th.
What it means is everything considered – conference, schedule, strength of opponents, previous slights, whining fan bases, football being deemed an essential business by the governor – the chances of the perfect storm (even a hurricane playing havoc on the season) happening for UCF are greater than everything falling into place for Florida.
As for Florida State and the University of Miami, let’s squash that right now. Neither are among the 17 schools with at least a 1 percent chance of reaching the playoff, nor should they be. As for the FPI, Florida State is No. 26 and Miami No. 51, a tad high for FSU – although the Seminoles should be improved and could threaten the Top 25.
But for either team to miraculously sniff the playoffs, that likely would mean beating Clemson (FSU in the regular season, Miami in the ACC title game). Clemson, by the way, is the overwhelming preseason No. 1, the team with the greatest chance of reaching the playoff (81 percent) and winning the title (36 percent) – and has at least an 87 percent chance of winning every game.
In UCF’s favor: Playing in a conference in which it’s always a threat to go undefeated, something it has done two of the last three years. A season-opener against trendy Top 25 preseason pick, North Carolina. Two other games against teams that finished in the Top 25 last season – Memphis and Cincinnati – and are expected to be preseason Top 25 picks this year.
If the Knights go undefeated, including beating another ranked team in the AAC title game, and if they get outside help, is there a chance? I guess. But I’m not buying even 10 percent.
I’m not saying they might not make the committee think – not with a bunch of playmakers led by quarterback Dillon Gabriel and much of the defense returning – but so much has to go right for an undefeated Group of Five school to steal a spot from the Power Five.
The Gators likely will be a preseason Top 10 team, but playing in the SEC not only means several opportunities to boost the resume, but plenty of landmines, too.
The analytics believe Florida is not going to get through a slate that includes games at Tennessee, at Lane Kiffin U, home against LSU, Georgia in Jacksonville and a possible SEC title game, without at least two losses. If Florida wins the East and faces Alabama in the conference championship game, it would have played three teams that, as of today, are among the top six most likely to reach the playoffs.
But here is the problem UCF and other G5 schools face, a one-loss team from the SEC or Big Ten, or even Big 12, is a lock to keep out UCF. Even two loss teams from the SEC and Big Ten may have the edge.
In 2017 and 2018, undefeated UCF was ranked No. 12 and No. 8, respectively, by the CFP committee. In those two years combined, the committee had six teams with two losses and one with three losses ahead of UCF.
Do the Knight have a chance? Sure. But there’s a better chance we don’t see a football season this fall than one in which UCF is in the Final Four.