There’s always gonna be somebody jonesing for Cinderella.

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.

46 Comments

Filed under BCS/Playoffs, It's Not Easy Being A Mid-Major

46 responses to “There’s always gonna be somebody jonesing for Cinderella.

  1. WarD Eagle

    She’s right. And when we say there is little context for judging the team’s worth, yet avoid the opportunity to provide context, I think we belittle the idea of a playoff.

    UCF is the ONLY undefeated team.

    They should rename it the invitational college football tournament because it is not a playoff.

    Like

    • Gaskilldawg

      If the criterion for invitation is that the committee believes an invitee is one of the top four teams, then the relevant issue is whether the committee should have concluded UCF is a better team than Clemson, or better team than Oklahoma, or better team than Georgia, or a better team than Alabama.

      Are you really saying it is obvious that, on a neutral location 4 weeks from now UCF would likely beat Clemson, or Oklahoma, or Georgia or Alabama?

      If you think that, then okay. The next question would be whether reasonable observers could disagree with you and believe UCF would not beat any of those teams.

      If ESPN and the bowls told the committee to select the team with the best record then that would be a different mission.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Sorry, but I can’t get behind the idea that a playoff is for the purpose of testing whether a mid-major is good enough to be there. I thought that was the purpose of a regular season.

      Liked by 1 person

      • gastr1

        Can you get behind the idea of a team’s body of work, assessing wins and losses, and not really knowing how it will play out until they meet on the field? The point of a playoff is to sort these things out on the field. End of story. In the end you’re making the case for expansion without even realizing it.

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        • Biggus Rickus

          By that reasoning, everyone may as well be in the playoff. How else can we know? Maybe Missouri is the best team in the country right now. They’ve won six straight, after all.

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        • Not being snarky here, but I really don’t get your argument. I’ve watched UCF play this season. There is no way it’s in the same class as Alabama. Why do I need a playoff to sort that out?

          Are you seriously telling me if those two teams faced off today at even money, you’d bet on Central Florida?

          Liked by 1 person

          • Mayor

            The problem is until they play, how do you really know? You can say you know, you can think you know, you can even believe with all your heart you know–but until they actually play you cannot really know. And even then, Bama might beat UCF 9 out of 10 times but the one time UCF wins might be the first time they play. That’s the challenge of it. In 1998 Tulane was undefeated including winning its bowl game. In my mind Tulane should have been allowed to play UT (a team that won 2 games by flukes) for the national championship but was denied the opportunity. As far as I am concerned Tulane was the national champion in 1998 not UT–and still is.

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    • 92 grad

      Your last sentence nails it. The so called playoff is really an invitational exhibition tournament, I too wish they would call it for what it is. If for no other reason it helps people understand with more clarity what the CFP is not. It’s not a national championship, it’s a tournament championship.

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      • Alkaline

        This is the reason it’s called “the College Football Playoff” and not “the NCAA College Football Playoff.” You can quibble about the branding if you want, but since it’s not an official national championship event the organizers can call it whatever else they feel like.

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        • Gaskilldawg

          You are correct. It is not an NCAA tournament it is an ESPN/Bowls invitational. ESPN can select participants any way they wish. It can select the schools with the best looking uniforms if it wished.

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      • NCT

        The Tarheels are the defending champions of the NCAA Tournament. We might call them “national champion,” but only to the extent that we agree that such moniker goes to whoever wins the tournament.

        In Div I-A football, there will always be reasonable complaints about how a “national champion” is named. I submit this is mostly because each team plays such a small number of games each season and, therefore, is best suited to regional perspectives instead of a national one. By the time the SEC tournament arrives, our basketball team will have played as many non-conference games as our football team played all regular season, in or out of conference.

        Accordingly, a “national champion” in Div-IA football will always be something fun to discuss (and, certainly, to have), but it will always be with a wink-nudge understanding of what it is. Maybe the BCS and the CFP feel more “legit,” but that’s moving a couple of inches toward something a mile away (and impossible to reach). Considering how tiny the relative improvement of slotting the top two or top four teams has been, I personally think the ol’ Bowls and Polls way of life was preferable. It was plenty of fun spending December talking about what had to happen in the polls, given the arbitrary placement of ranked teams, for X or Y team to end up number 1. And this was well after the good stuff had already happened. Did we beat our rivals? Did we win our conference?

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    • Biggus Rickus

      There’s a lot of context for judging a team’s worth, from talent level to the quality of the teams they played to how well they played against those teams to how many games they won overall to who losses came against and on and on and on. The idea that UCF should be in simply because they’re the “ONLY undefeated team” is to ignore all of that context.

      Liked by 1 person

    • simpl_matter

      UCF also needed 40+ points a game to beat the decent teams they played, they would be absolutely trucked in the playoffs.

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    • Mayor

      +1. The way they do it now is no better than the old polls.

      Like

  2. addr

    Death, taxes, and the G5 lament. I’m convinced every sports writer already has their article typed out before the season starts.

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  3. Bob

    UCF is a great story. They are also very, very good. But how many other teams would have been undefeated playing that schedule? I don’t think Bama loses or Auburn or TCU or USC or Penn State. We will never know, but strong liklihood that another 10-15 schools go unbeaten with that schedule.

    BTW Senator, I think UCF used to be the Golden Knights and are now just the Knights. My Black Knights (of the Hudson) meet some squids this Saturday. 😉

    Like

  4. Gaskilldawg

    If UCF was number four and Clemson beat it, say 38-7 in a snooze fest she would complain because she did not get an entertaining game.

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  5. Chopdawg

    Maybe UCF would’ve been helped by a victory over GA Tech…not enough for playoff consideration IMHO.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Bill June

    Couldn’t UCF have scheduled 2-3 games with P5 powers? If they beat P5 teams on their home fields, then they would have more authority. But they didn’t.

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    • Nashville West

      That was my initial thought as well. It turns out that UCF actually did beat Maryland (Big 10) and had to cancel their game with tech because of the hurricane. Even if they had played and beaten tech I doubt if it would have made a difference. Heck, even the lowly vowels beat tech.

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    • Mayor

      UCF was supposed to play GTU but the game got washed out by the Hurricane.

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  7. Since the Cinderellas always get beat by the round of 16 or 8 at the latest, with a 4 team playoff you take care of it in advance, right?

    There is a path for programs like UCF. You just don’t get to the finish line in year 1. Beat auburn. They’ll be uninspired. Then go 12-0 again. They’ll give you a better bowl and another chance and so on.

    There was a time when Boise would have made it on a similar schedule if they were 12-0, but it wasn’t when they first started. It was after they beat Oklahoma and Georgia.

    If you want to see how it’s done, look at what Bobby Bowden did at FSU. You don’t have to stay irrelevant but you do have to earn it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Russ

      Wasn’t FSU an independent back when Bowden was building the brand? It’s sort of a catch-22 with these teams now. UCF could certainly go the Bowden (and Boise) path, but conference requirements limit it a bit. Still, they would certainly benefit from a little better scheduling.

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  8. WF Dawg

    Did y’all notice that Bill Connolly’s stats predict UCF over Auburn by 2? I’m not ready to buy that yet.

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  9. I agree with Bill C. on the face that it seems like the only way a mid-major that is legitimately good (as UCF was this year) gets any hope of sniffing the playoff is based on a couple of ridiculously stupid standards:

    A – whether they’ve been legitimately good for like 5 straight years (i.e. Boise State 2010ish) or
    B – if they had a a couple of big wins the year before and had the schedule set up nicely for them in the next year (i.e. Houston 2016 after beating FSU / Lousville in 2015 and having Oklahoma / Louisville on the schedule in 2016).

    It was pretty absurd to me that UCF was ranked below 3 loss Stanford (that lost to freaking San Diego State) in the last playoff rankings prior to championship weekend simply because they didn’t win the lottery with an ACC or Big 12 bid.

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  10. But they ain’t played nobody, Paaaawwwwlll.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Greg

    Nothing says playoff caliber like giving up an aggregate 97 points in your last two regular season games (both played at home). Yeah, a UCF-Clemson matchup would have been must-see TV.

    Congrats to UCF for going unbeaten and getting the opportunity to play an SEC team in a New Years Dey Bowl. Thank goodness it’s Auburn as their “nothing to gain” opponent rather than us. We already had one of those bowls a decade ago vs. Hawaii. Hopefully, it will be our last.

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    • Russ

      I agree. As happy as I am to win the SEC and go to the Rose Bowl, I’m just as relieved to not have to return to Atlanta for the Peach Bowl and play UCF. “No win”, indeed.

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  12. Macallanlover

    Inclusive, while exclusive. UCF should get a spot to represent the Group of 5 and their dreams. Along with the Power 5 champs, those six allow a path to the playoff/title which should not be subjective (yeah, the Group of 5’s best would be a vote but no significant complaint will arise. Add the 2 next highest rated and we have a quality field with little room for bitching, so much better than the way we have been doing it for a couple of decades. We have twiddled our thumbs long enough, let’s fix this thing.

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  13. Coach Bobby Finstock

    Here is something the pundits and fans should keep in mind with regard to the playoff:

    IT’S
    NEVER
    NEVER
    NEVER
    EVER
    EVER
    GONNA
    BE
    FAIR

    How can it be? Look at the NCAA basketball tournament and our very own Georgia Bulldogs. Remember when Felton took a mediocre team and stormed through the SEC tournament, thus securing them a spot in the tournament? Some of the pundits lamented how unfair it was that we got in. The tournament has forty-eleven teams, and it’s still unfair. Know why?

    IT’S
    NEVER
    NEVER
    NEVER
    EVER
    EVER
    GONNA
    BE
    FAIR

    Like