Sports Illustrated’s Joan Niesen laments the selection committee’s missed opportunity.
A precedent was set in college football on Sunday: More than half of FBS teams are ineligible for the playoff.
No one announced this, but the College Football Playoff committee might as well have when it ranked 12–0 UCF, the American Athletic Conference champion, No. 10. The only remaining undefeated team in the country, the Knights were coming off two straight wins over ranked teams, and as all of college football fervently debated which flawed traditional power—Ohio State or Alabama—might get in, the team wrapping a perfect season was all but ignored.
It’s not a good look for a sport that claimed its new playoff system, now in its fourth year, would be a progressive move.
This year marked what could have been a turning point for the playoff. After Saturday’s championship games, three spots were set in stone—Clemson, Oklahoma and Georgia, all bona fide contenders. But after that consensus top three, things looked murky. Even two-loss USC, left for dead after getting blown out by Notre Dame in October, seemed to be in the conversation. For the first time in the playoff’s history, the bracket was unsettled not because there were too many qualified teams, but because there might just have been too few.
It was an opportunity for the playoff to do something different. Instead, it made the most predictable move possible: It picked Alabama.
UCF is certainly a nice story. Scott Frost brought the program back from its absolute nadir under George O’Leary. But notice that not even Niesen is arguing that the
Black Knights are a better team than Alabama. The problem is that there’s little context to evaluate how good a team that was 0-12 in 2015 is now: the toughest opponent UCF faced this season, according to ESPN’s FPI, is #29 Memphis. According to Sagarin, UCF has played the nation’s 83rd toughest schedule. Bill Connelly, who’s been very positive about Central Florida’s season, has it facing two opponents all season in his top twenty in terms of S&P+ rankings — and five running between 103 and 123.
You can’t say a team is weak simply because it’s played a weak schedule, of course. What you can say, though, is that playing a weaker schedule makes it harder to judge a team’s worth. That’s something especially true for a team going through a meteoric rise as UCF has.
Is UCF Boise State versus Oklahoma good, or Hawaii versus Georgia overrated? We don’t know. Maybe we’ll get an indication when the
Black Knights face off against Auburn, although I don’t see how they can stay in the ball park if the Tigers show up motivated.
It seems to me that when Niesen writes,
But I’m bored, and I’m tired of watching the teams that should be playing in January rather than a team that could be if only everyone broadened their horizons.
… she’s asking the committee to entertain her in the abstract rather than put the four best teams in position to win a national title. A mid-major hoping to crash the CFP party is going to have to have more on its résumé than novelty. As long as there’s a four-team playoff, anyway.