So we know now that the UCF Knights are getting only cursory consideration from the College Football Playoff committee, and that it’s going to take a truly impressive run of success in order to sniff the hindquarters of the bracket.
Even so, I wanted to take a minute and see if we can get a good feel for where the team might appear in the initial CFP ranking in about a month.
Last season, the Knights were unranked in the preseason, didn’t earn a ranking in either poll until they beat Memphis to get to 3-0, and didn’t crack the top 20 until they beat ECU to move to 5-0.
You cannot convince me that these polls are not considered by the CFP folks. I’ll get to that in a second. This year they started at 21/23 and are already up to 13/14 in the respective polls.
Barring an unanticipated collapse somewhere in October, I would expect UCF to be solidly entrenched in the top 10 of both of the traditional polls by the time the first CFP ranking is released, which should secure them a minimum of a top-15 ranking there.
How do I figure that? Like I mentioned, the College Football Playoff Rankings tend to fairly closely mirror the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches’ polls. Heavily so.
- During the 2014 season, there were no instances of a team being ranked in the CFP any more than 5 spots higher or lower than their ranking in either traditional poll.
- In 2015, there were four instances of a team slotted more than five spots lower in the CFP than in the polls, and three of those were undefeated Houston in the first three rankings*. On the flipside, Texas A&M and Northwestern (once each in the first two rankings) were six spots higher in the CFP than in the polls.
- In 2016, there were five instances of a team slotted more than five spots lower in the CFP than in the polls, and four of those were PJ Fleck’s Western Michigan team. On the other side, Penn State and Colorado were each more than five spots higher in the CFP (in the same week), while Tennessee and Utah both accomplished it twice – including Tennessee ranking 19th in the CFP without being ranked in either poll.
- Finally, last season there were zero instances of a team placing more than five spots higher in the CFP than in either poll, and only one instance of the opposite; NC State pulled 19th in the third CFP ranking last season while coming in at 25th in the AP poll and 22nd in the coaches’ poll.
*Fun sidenote; in the first ranking of 2015, UH was 18th in both polls but 25th in the CFP, while Memphis was 15th/16th in the polls and 13th in the CFP – almost entirely because Memphis beat Ole Miss while Houston beat Louisville.
In the case of both Houston and Western Michigan, their CFP ranking eventually caught up to their poll ranking – Houston because they didn’t stay undefeated, and Western Michigan because they did.
UCF didn’t have that problem last season – their CFP ranking lagged behind their poll rankings all season, but it never lagged way behind. Additionally, their lack of strength of schedule will actually play in their favor to an extent as long as they keep winning this year.
UCF has two to four games left on their schedule – at Memphis and USF, at home against Temple and Cincinnati – against teams that might be ranked by the time the Knights play them.
In comparison, of the 13 teams that are currently above them in one of the two polls, all but one have at least one game against another team in the group over the next three months. Clemson is the lone exception.
Obviously, UCF is far from guaranteed to leapfrog a team in that top 12 simply by them losing to another team in the top 12. But there are a number of ways those games could shake out that would produce a UCF team that is staring at a sure top-15 and maybe even a top-10 College Football Playoff ranking by the time their win streak hits 20 games.
This is not half-cocked rose-colored-glasses talk, either. After the uproar that came from last season, there is no way that a UCF team that is still undefeated heading into November would be outside the top 10 in either traditional poll, and there’s no way the College Football Playoff could deviate drastically from that area without inciting a media firestorm.
I’m not yet certain that UCF will beat the best remaining teams on their schedule. But I am certain that if they do, they’ll start this year’s CFP rankings roughly where they ended last year, and maybe even reach the discussion of the actual playoff by the end of the season.
It shouldn’t have to be that way, but at least we get to have that discussion now.