There are few programs in the country with more to gain from the newly proposed 12-team playoff format than UCF. The Knights – who in real life found themselves shut out of the playoff two years in a row despite a 25-0 record in that span – would have three playoff appearances under their belt in the last eight years under this new format.
With a chance of the new system starting in 2023, the next decade could see UCF truly transform into the national brand and annual powerhouse that it has always dreamt of becoming.
So, it’s time to ramp down the tougher scheduling talk.
Since new AD Terry Mohajir and coach Gus Malzahn have taken over, plenty of talking points have centered around how the Knights need to start scheduling top tier opponents regardless of series structure. Malzahn has often declared that Top 10 teams need to be added to the schedule, and there were even rumors back in spring of a potential UCF-Alabama matchup on the horizon.
And that’s a great, great plan. For a four-team playoff where Group of Five teams are always knocked for schedule strength. For a 12-team playoff where the six highest-ranked conference champs are guaranteed access? Maybe not.
We are about to enter an age where UCF is in as long as they’ve won the AAC with one loss or less. Maybe even two losses. Don’t forget that in 2019, the CFP rankings fell in such a way that 10-2 Cincinnati likely would have claimed the G5 New Year’s Six bid over 12-1 Boise State if the Bearcats had won their conference.
If UCF schedules teams like Alabama or Ohio State and beats them, great. You’ve given your brand an absurdly powerful boost. But those teams run the sport for a reason and we all know, even if some of us might not like to dwell on it, that UCF will almost certainly lose those games most years. Texas A&M was the No. 4 team in the nation last year and still lost to Bama by almost 30 points.
If the Knights start playing Top 10 teams in out-of-conference play, all they will be doing is taking themselves out of playoff contention just a couple weeks into the season. And even if UCF wins those games, the AAC is a tougher conference than most give it credit for. But since it’s not tough enough to be considered a power league, the Knights have no hope of claiming an at-large bid if they don’t win the league.
Say that 2023 or 2024 UCF pulls of a stunning, all-time upset by beating Ohio State. But then the Knights stumble against a very tough conference slate and finish 10-2. That record and marquee win would guarantee a playoff spot for any SEC or Big 12 school. But for a Group of Five? No way.
UCF can high-five over its marquee win as an undefeated Cincinnati with victories over Miami (Ohio) and Pitt waltzes into the playoff.
There’s just no point in messing with the system that UCF has now. Play an FCS to get the extra home game. Play one of FIU or FAU to give yourself another in-state game. And then play two mid-level Power Fives that offer chances to give yourself a measuring stick against other playoff hopefuls without jeopardizing your entire season.
That’s the exact formula that sent the Knights to back-to-back New Year’s Six Bowls in 2017 and 2018. In this new system, those would’ve been playoff appearances. UCF would have even hosted a first round game in 2018. It may be a cliché, but in this new system the Knights’ scheduling philosophy isn’t broken. Why try to fix it?