As UCF has risen to powerhouse status over the last few years, one constant criticism has persisted: the Knights need to schedule better teams.
UCF has, of course, had two Power Five teams on its schedule (not counting hurricane cancellations) every year since 2012, including matchups with programs like Ohio State, Michigan and Stanford. But following the team’s 28-2 run over the last three years, the Knights are now dealing with the greatest double standard of college football. They have never needed big matchups more, and they have never been harder to get.
Many of the Power Five teams that have played the Knights over the last few years scheduled those games when UCF was in Conference USA or after what appeared to be a one-off Fiesta Bowl year in the early days of the AAC. Finding matchups for an upper-level Group of Five team is a much easier sell than convincing a big name to put it all on the line against a legitimate Top 25 opponent.
Sure, Michigan was happy to play UCF in a buy game when the Knights were just a year removed from an 0-12 campaign. But what do the Wolverines possibly have to gain from matching up against a team that is 5-1 against ranked opponents since 2017? If you win, you just beat a Group of Five team, as is expected of you. If you lose, you’re ridiculed for choking against an inferior program.
So, UCF is seemingly backed into a corner where fans and media demand bigger matchups that are simply next to impossible to come by. But once again, Athletic Director Danny White has found a way around an unfair system.
The Knights announced on Tuesday that they have scheduled home-and-home series with two of the most successful programs that don’t play in a power conference: Boise State and BYU.
If you can’t get Power Five teams to play you, then why not swing for the best Group of Five teams around?
“BYU and Boise State represent big-time strength-of-schedule games for our program based on their records and top-25 rankings in recent years,” White said in a statement. “We are committed to continue to schedule attractive, meaningful football games both for our fans and student-athletes. BYU and Boise State are both power programs, and we’re proud to play them.”
Obviously, Boise State and BYU don’t play in the Power Five. But that doesn’t change that they are both more attractive opponents than all but perhaps the top three or four teams in each of those conferences.
The Cougars, after a couple of uncharacteristic down years, have beaten every power team that they have played so far this season, and have won at least eight games five times this decade. UCF is essentially assuring itself of at least one bowl-bound team on its out-of-conference slate.
And then there’s Boise State, the trailblazing program that made it possible for teams like UCF to be taken seriously in the first place. It’s not a stretch to say that there are probably 20 programs or fewer that are worth scheduling over the Mountain West power.
The Broncos are elite just about every year, finishing in the AP Top 25 in 9 of the last 13 seasons. They’ve also won three Fiesta Bowls in the span and are almost always in the discussion of college football’s top teams.
Even now, UCF and Boise State are the only two ranked Group of Five teams in the AP Poll. And the best part is that both teams will almost certainly still be relevant when this matchup arrives.
While some programs are setting their slates for the 2030’s already, UCF will face Boise State in 2021 and 2023, with the BYU games set for 2023 and 2024. There just isn’t a way to give White enough credit for what he’s done here.
In a climate where virtually no prominent team is interested in playing UCF, he’s managed to add two series against highly respected opponents, one of which will very likely be ranked for both matchups (Boise State has begun 8 of the last 13 years in the Preseason Top 25). And all of these games will be played in the next five years.
UCF needed a better schedule and it needed it now. As usual, White delivered.