Can UCF still make it to the Cotton Bowl? Here’s what needs to happen

Maybe the whole “Power Six” thing isn’t so crazy after all. The first set of College Football Playoff rankings were revealed on Tuesday night and the American had quite the showing, with four different teams showing up in the poll.

UCF obviously was not one of them.

The Knights, who have dominated the Group of Five field for the last couple seasons, are currently on the outside looking in thanks to a pair of losses by a combined four points. Is a Cotton Bowl trip out of the question for UCF? Maybe. But the dream of a third straight New Year’s Six Appearance is far from dead.

There is a road map for this, when 11-2 Boise State earned a Fiesta Bowl bid in 2014 after two early-season losses. But UCF doesn’t control its own destiny and more than a couple teams are going to have to lose for the Knights to come from behind and reclaim the Group of Five throne.

Here is the official “UCF to the Cotton Bowl Checklist”

1. UCF has to win out

This one is pretty obvious. If the Knights are going to the Cotton Bowl, then they need to have experienced their last loss of the season. With three games left and two of those contests coming against Tulsa and USF, this is a more than attainable goal. The only potential hiccup could be a road trip to Tulane, but the 6-3 Green Wave have not performed well against top tier teams this season.

Likelihood of Occurring: Very High

2. Cincinnati needs to lose… and then lose again

UCF really could not have picked a worse conference team to lose to. The No. 20 Bearcats are currently in the driver’s seat for the Cotton Bowl bid and have only lost to juggernaut Ohio State. The Knights will need them to drop two of their four remaining conference games to make it to the AAC Championship Game. This could be more likely than it seems.

The Bearcats will close out the season with Temple and a road game at Memphis. That game against the Tigers on their home field could easily be a loss and the Owls are always a tricky opponent. Don’t discount a potential upset by USF either.

Is this wishful thinking? Yes and no. Cincinnati is a very good team. But they have struggled in essentially every game they’ve played since the win over UCF elevated their season. Houston and Tulsa both kept it close for much of their respective games, and lowly ECU came excruciatingly close to knocking off the Bearcats this past weekend. The Memphis game is looking close to a sure-thing loss. It’s just a question of if Cincinnati will drop another along the way.

Likelihood of Occurring: Low

3. UCF needs to beat whoever it faces in the AAC Championship Game

Duh. Cincy slipping up is great but the Knights have to go win the conference after that. This is actually where the AAC’s strength works to the Knights’ advantage, since they will likely be facing the team in the lead for the Cotton Bowl bid. The Playoff Committee is all about those big wins.

Likelihood of Occurring: High (Memphis can’t beat UCF. It just doesn’t happen. Ever)

4. Boise State needs to lose

And here is the last piece of the puzzle. UCF can win out, Cincy can lose twice, and the Knights can take down Memphis/Navy/SMU to win the conference. But none of it will have mattered if the Broncos are sitting ahead of them in the rankings with a 12-1 record.

Just one more loss anywhere on the schedule will do it. Boise doesn’t have a very tough slate left but there are certainly opportunities for losses, especially after they struggled with 4-5 San Jose State on Saturday. Their upcoming game against 6-2 Wyoming could be the one. Or maybe a conference championship matchup with currently 7-1 San Diego State (I’m confident 11-2 UCF gets in over 12-1 San Diego State mainly because I’m not sure the Playoff Committee has heard of San Diego State)

Call me optimistic, but I see the Broncos dropping that game.

Likelihood of Occurring: Moderately High

Likelihood of UCF Making the Cotton Bowl: Uh… we’ll see



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Christian Simmons is the founder and editor of Knight Sports Now. You can follow him on Twitter at @ByCASimmons.