John Raoux/Associated Press
For the second straight season, UCF football has gone undefeated but been left out of the College Football Playoff.
While the Knights have dominated on the field, their strength of schedule has been called into question, which has prevented them from further playoff glory.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey referenced the issue on Thursday. Per the Associated Press, he said the Knights must look “inward” to fix their schedule problems.
Sankey referenced the 2015-16 men’s basketball season when articulating his point at the Learfield Intercollegiate Athletics Forum. That year, the SEC had just three teams make the NCAA tournament, in part because some schools had weaker strengths of schedule.
“We weren’t living up to our expectations,” Sankey said. “Rather than point to the selection committee, other people … we looked inward and said: ‘How do we adjust to the circumstances around us?’ I would observe that’s the challenge for everybody at the FBS level.”
Sankey noted the answer was improving the nonconference schedule, but UCF athletic director Danny White discussed the challenges of doing so in a text message with the Associated Press.
“Basketball teams are rewarded for playing tough teams such as UCF through metrics like RPI or NET, while football teams avoid us because they’re concerned about the ‘eye test,'” White wrote.
“As I’ve said many times, we are willing to play any Power Six program in the country. The challenge is that not many are willing to play us.”
UCF’s problem isn’t easily solvable given the obstacles White mentioned. The Knights can only play the teams on their schedule, and they’ve done their part by beating all 25 of them since the beginning of the 2017 season.
The problem with non-Power Five schools is that the margin of error is nonexistent, so any slip-up along the way would mean UCF would likely be home for the four-team playoff yet again.
The most practical solution may be to expand the playoff to eight teams, which would have hypothetically included non-Power Five schools like UCF in 2017 and 2018 and Utah (when it was a Mountain West member) in 2008. However, there may be many logistical hurdles to get to that point, especially considering how moving to a playoff itself was like pulling teeth.
Looking ahead, the Knights could get a boost in 2019 with a home game against Stanford. While the Cardinal finished outside the Top 25 this year, head coach David Shaw led his team to three straight Top 20 finishes in the Associated Press poll from 2015-2017. He’s certainly capable of leading the Cardinal back to glory.
If that occurs in 2019 and the Knights pick off the Cardinal at home, then that should go a long way toward UCF improving its postseason resume.
However, the deck will likely be stacked against non-Power Five teams overall for the foreseeable future.