UCF Logo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
By Kyle Beery
The college football regular season has concluded, following a pretty wild and wacky final weekend.
The Michigan Wolverines and their “vaunted” No. 1-ranked defense in the country got their brakes beat off by Ohio State.
Another top-10 team in LSU lost an absolutely insane 7-overtime game on the road to Texas A&M.
The “other reigning national champions,” and everyone’s favorite college football underdog story extended their winning streak to 24 games, but it came at a high cost for UCF. Star quarterback McKenzie Milton suffered a gruesome season-ending and possibly career-ending injury.
While no season will ever recreate the chaos that was the 2007 season, with the right amount of crazy next weekend, the College Football Playoff Selection Committee could be looking at its biggest conundrum in its five years of existence.
I’m always one to root for the underdogs, as well as a little bit of chaos. Here’s a look at how the CFP Committee could be forced to put UCF into the playoff, even after losing Milton.
First of all, let’s assume the committee’s top 10 will look like this, or at least very similar, come Tuesday:
3. Notre Dame
6. Ohio State
I don’t think this theory would be shaken up too much if it looks slightly different, even if, say, they decide to have the likes of Florida or Penn State ahead of LSU at No. 10, or even in UCF is down a spot or two further.
As long as the committee sticks to its word and ranks UCF based on what has happened so far, not predicting what could happen, they should be soundly in the top 10. And what I’m about to lay out for you — while crazy, yet still quite possible — could lead to quite the mess when the playoff field is unveiled next Sunday at noon.
#1 — Alabama beats Georgia convincingly
This would obviously assure the Crimson Tide the top seed, at a perfect 13-0. It would also mean that the SEC’s second-best team, Georgia, would have two losses and no conference championship to its name.
The committee has never taken a two-loss team and has only ever selected two non-conference champions (2017 Alabama, 2016 Ohio State) into the field.
And this couldn’t be a scenario like last year, when Alabama made the playoff despite not even reaching the conference championship game, as LSU lost on Saturday and the next best SEC teams would be three-loss squads in Florida and Kentucky.
If this game were to come down to a last-minute field goal or touchdown, Georgia could still have an outside shot. But if the Tide Rolls — say at least two touchdowns and the game was never really in doubt in the fourth quarter — the Dawgs will be out of luck (at least in this scenario).
#2 — Clemson beats Pitt
You would expect that this game will be a blowout. Kinda like we all expected in 2015 before the Tigers received quite the scare from North Carolina.
But it’s probably safe to assume Clemson will run away with this one, locking the Tigers into the No. 2 spot for the playoff.
(#2.5 — Notre Dame doesn’t lose its conference championship)
I’m willing to bet my life savings on this one, seeing as how the Irish don’t play in a conference and won’t have a game this weekend.
#3 — Texas upsets Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship
This is where the chaos theory begins to boil and we’d really need to see some unexpected events start happening.
Now this wouldn’t be too crazy, as the Longhorns beat Oklahoma in the Red River Shootout back on the first Saturday in October. But the Horns looked shaky in their 24-17 win over Kansas, and the Sooners have been putting up gaudy offensive numbers, averaging 52.7 points per game since their lone loss of the season.
A Texas win would mean the Big 12 Champion has three losses (one to a non-bowl team and one to a .500 team, nonetheless). If the committee has never taken a two-loss team, it’s certainly not taking a three-loss team.
Oklahoma would be in a similar position as Georgia, but with its two losses looking a little worse than the Bulldogs’.
And just for good measure, I’ll be sure to rule out West Virginia, which has two losses and no conference title on its resume.
#4 — Northwestern upsets Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship
I liked the Wildcats to win the Big Ten West before the season started. I was looking like a fool after they lost back-to-back games to Akron and Duke, then blew a second half lead at home against Michigan. I looked up six weeks later and Northwestern had lost just once since then — outside of conference play — and had wrapped up the program’s first ever West division title.
Now the Wildcats have been playing some great football and will look to take down Ohio State. They’ll certainly be the underdogs, but Ohio State, prior to thumping Michigan on Saturday, had been in some rocky waters recently.
The Buckeyes got trounced at Purdue, survived a scare from Nebraska at home and might have lost at Maryland if it weren’t for some late-game heroics by the offense and Terps coach Matt Canada deciding to go for two when he didn’t yet have to.
I say all of that to say this: Northwestern may not win this game, but it’s entirely possible.
And if it does win, that would mean the Big Ten champion has four losses — not getting in. The next best teams would be Ohio State, coming off a setback to a four-loss team, and Michigan. And after Saturday’s pathetic performance, how could the committee put the Wolverines in?
#5 — UCF beats Memphis handily, sans McKenzie Milton.
Obviously, this whole scenario hinges most on this condition. The Knights have to win, plain and simple. And perhaps more importantly, they have to do it pretty convincingly with freshman QB Darriel Mack, Jr.
While the rest of the Knights looked pretty solid, outscoring USF 28-10 without their best player, that team revolved around Milton. UCF may have to have either Mack or a stable of running backs step up and show out in a big way to catch the eye of the committee.
And if they do, we’d be looking at a 12-0 UCF team — who missed an opportunity to play a power conference team (albeit UNC who ended up 2-9) because of a natural disaster — that has won 25 consecutive games.
This team still has Greg McCrae (approaching 1,000 rushing yards and 10 TDs) and a pretty solid pass defense (under 200 yards per game).
If all of that were to happen, how on Earth would the committee begin to sort things out beyond the top three teams?
To recap, the committee has never taken a two-loss team and has only twice selected a non-conference champion.
With all this playing out just right, here’s who the committee would have to choose from:
- UCF — 12-0, AAC Champions; 25-game win streak; win over ACC Coastal champion
- Georgia — 11-2, not a conference champion; would be coming off a considerably “bad” loss
- LSU, Florida, Kentucky — all 9-3, not conference champions; didn’t reach SEC title game
- Texas — 10-3, Big 12 Champions
- Oklahoma — 11-2, not a conference champion; would have two losses to Texas and a heap of games in which it allowed more than 40 points
- West Virginia — 8-3; not a conference champion
- Northwestern — 9-4, Big Ten Champions
- Ohio State — 11-2, not a conference champion; would have just suffered a setback to a four-loss team
- Michigan — 10-2, not a conference champion; looked terrible in its last game
Now I know the committee can do as it pleases. And I know you’ll tell me any good SEC team would blow UCF out of the water. And I know they’re without their quarterback.
But in order for the CFP Selection Committee to leave UCF out of the playoff under all these circumstances, it would have to do something it’s never done — reward a two-loss team a berth in the playoff.
That sets a dangerous precedent. What more can a Group of 5 school do to get a spot at the table? Non-conference football schedules are set as many as 5-10 years in advance.
Quick hypothetical — So what happens if Fresno State (who has quietly had a very good 10-2 season) goes undefeated in 2021 with wins over UCLA and Oregon, but both of those teams turn out to be below average, despite both being in good shape when the games were scheduled back in 2015 and 2016, respectively? Will the Bulldogs be knocked because they didn’t play a tough enough schedule?
Now to translate that to this season: when UCF scheduled the UNC game back in 2016, the Tar Heels were coming off an ACC Coastal Division title and the Knights were banking on them being far better than they turned out to be. Some things are just out of a school’s control. Like natural disasters and other schools’ success three seasons down the road.
It’s not like basketball where schedules are put together each summer and coaches can schedule as they please, based on what would benefit their resumes in the upcoming season.
If the committee lets in a two-loss team over an undefeated UCF under these circumstances, it’s not going to be the end of the world. But it’s going to be a downright shame. And it might be time for Group of 5 schools to really cause a stink with the NCAA about expanding the playoff field and including a mandatory bid for the highest ranked G5 team. I’m talking some form of monetary protest. There’s got to be a way. I’m no NCAA business guru, but there’s got to be some sort of action that can get something done about this.