News broke on July 28th that UCF scheduled FIU to a home-and-home series for 2020 and 2022, which led to this very common sentiment:
Andy Staples wrote a surprise defense of UCF’s scheduling philosophy for The Athletic, repeating White’s claim all along that UCF was never going to make it into the CFP, so schedule the best you can to build your program.
As crazy as it sounds, national and local media along with hoards of social media users have talked about the UCF football schedule ad nauseum. Clearly, the season can’t get here soon enough.
Before You Judge an AD, Walk a Mile in His Shoes…
Let’s not get entangled in whether or not UCF made a good move here. Instead, let’s step inside Danny White’s shoes and try to schedule some future OOC games for UCF.
We’ll start with our scope and some assumptions.
First, UCF has immediate needs for the 2021 season. We could include 2022 and beyond, but I want to limit the scope in hopes of demonstrating how challenging this actually is even for just one year. The Knights have just one OOC game on the schedule for 2021, so we have our work cut out for us.
Second, I am assuming that there are P5 teams that just don’t want to schedule UCF at all. These teams can be broken down into two categories: (1) teams that see no value in playing UCF ever, and (2) teams that have recently played UCF so they may not want to reschedule (especially teams who took an L).
Power 5 teams that I’m assuming don’t want to schedule UCF are (in no particular order) Clemson, FSU, Miami, Oklahoma, Texas, Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin Notre Dame, USC, Florida, Georgia, LSU, and Alabama. I’ll throw in Nebraska as well because of Scott Frost.
In addition, P5 teams that have recently played (or are in line to play) UCF and probably don’t want to re-up respective series are Louisville, UNC, Georgia Tech, Pitt, Penn State, Baylor (maybe?), Maryland, Stanford, and Auburn.
Third, there are many P5 teams that have full schedules for 2021. In fact, there are only 15(!) P5 teams altogether currently with an open date.
Lastly, I’m assuming that all P5 schools (like UCF) want 7 home games for the $$$. So, when trying to put together a schedule, I’ll lean more toward giving the P5 schools the 7th home game keeping in mind UCF wants a 7th too.
UCF plays at Louisville in 2021. That leaves three OOC games to fill, at least two at home but preferably all three. Pundits and not-so-well wishers want UCF to play as hard a schedule as possible. So let’s try to schedule three P5 teams.
Fifteen P5 schools have open schedules in 2021. Alas, seven of those schools are ones that probably don’t want to schedule the Knights. That leaves us with Boston College (which may be one of those too-soon teams), Wake Forest, Texas Tech, West Virginia, Tennessee, South Carolina(?), Texas A&M, and TCU.
If UCF’s trying to get two of these teams to visit Spectrum Stadium, which of these are answering the phone? For argument’s sake, Wake Forest is probably the best candidate. Let’s just check that schedule out…. Looks like Wake is already playing two OOC away games, including a game at UNC that is actually OOC?!
So, Wake Forest will probably decline a visit to UCF, although they may accept a UCF visit that year. So, let’s just assume UCF signs a 1-for-1 with Wake, with a return visit to Orlando in 2024.
Cool. That’s one game.
Let’s assume that Boston College wants another series with UCF. Checking in, it looks like BC already has two away games for 2021, and UCF already has away games with Louisville and Wake. So BC is out.
I know it’s unfair, but SEC teams are probably not wanting to play UCF, so Tennessee, South Carolina, and A&M are not answering the phone more than likely. BUT, Tennessee has an opening for an away game in 2021 as their other OOC opponents are all at home. South Carolina may be in that same boat as BC, but let’s look at their schedule anyway. Whoops! They’re already playing at ECU. A&M too is already playing an away game at Colorado, so I doubt they’ll give up that 7th game to visit the City Beautiful.
That leaves us with TCU. The Horned Frogs have an opening for an away game in 2021, and they have wide open availability for years. Having sympathy for the upstart Knights, whom TCU resembled in years past, TCU begrudgingly agrees to a 1-for-1 deal with the Knights, visiting Orlando in 2021 and hosting in 2023.
So, for those of you keeping track, UCF’s OOC schedule comprises at Louisville, at Wake Forest, and home against TCU.
We still have one more spot to fill. I guess we’ll reach out to our G5 brethren.
UCF finds itself in a difficult position. White has been trying to schedule marquee match-ups for years but clearly has not had the success we would all like to see. It’s not as if fans are happy to schedule lesser perceived teams. I think fans would love to see Michigan, USC, or Oklahoma visit Spectrum over FIU.
The situation will continue to get worse. Nine-game conference schedules severely restrict chances for UCF to play teams from the B1G, Big XII, and Pac-12 conferences. If the ACC and SEC go to nine games, UCF would have an even tougher shot.
Even if we put together a 2021 schedule that includes Louisville, Wake Forest, TCU, and a more well perceived G5 team, does a 12-1 or 13-0 UCF team make the CFP if other P5 teams have the same record?
Honestly, who knows at this point. CFP selection committee criteria seem to change annually. Perhaps a one off at a marquee P5 opponent is what UCF needs. Looking at future schedules, they certainly have room, especially 2021 and 2023.
The question then becomes, does UCF win the battle but lose the war? What is the end game? Gambling on a CFP bid that may or may not come even with a big win is risky when you give your season ticket holders a six-game line up with non-marquee teams. You risk attendance declines, and more importantly, declines in donations.
UCF seems to be building something for the long term. Building a foundation can be boring, but nothing could be more important than a stable base in a changing college football landscape.