I’ve been more than amused by all the UCF fluffery we’ve seen since the Knights embarrassed Auburn in the Peach Bowl. Some of that’s come from folks with an axe to grind against the current CFP format, some of it’s been generated by the school (you folks are adorable) and now here comes Ian Boyd to explore what advanced stats and Peach Bowl film study might say would have happened had UCF been the selection committee’s number four in place of Alabama.
Sure, it’s harmless fun and it’s not as if I’m highly offended by it. But there are a couple of premises he makes in support that I have to question.
The first is the most obvious: UCF wasn’t the fourth-best team in the country this year. Even Boyd notes that Bill Connelly’s S&P+ shows that Central Florida would have lost to both Clemson and Georgia. Alabama was ranked first. In that regard, where I do have to give a little credit where credit is due is that UCF doesn’t look totally out of place with the actual playoff field.
Playoff S&P+ profiles
Team S&P+ Rankings Clemson 45th Off, 1st Def, 52nd S/T Georgia 14th Off, 11th Def, 3rd S/T Oklahoma 1st Off, 101st Def, 71st S/T Alabama 23rd Off, 1st Def, 52nd S/T UCF 2nd Off, 74th Def, 51st S/T
They look like a slightly poorer version of Oklahoma there, don’t they?
Based on that — and remember that S&P+ is a stat that adjusts for opponents’ quality — I think UCF’s offense would have had some success against Clemson and Georgia, but it’s defense would have had a harder time. The real issue for Central Florida would have been depth, something S&P+ doesn’t address. How likely would it have been that the offense would have gone unscathed against two ferocious defenses? Alabama lost an offensive lineman in the middle of the national title game, plugged a five-star understudy in his place and moved on. That ain’t happening with UCF.
The other place depth matters is on special teams. That’s a matchup that would have greatly favored Georgia had the two teams met.
As far as the other premise goes, well…
We don’t have a ton of information to go off here, save for UCF’s performance against a Group of 5 schedule and a victory against Auburn in the Peach Bowl. However, Auburn defeated both of the participants in the title game, and it’s not likely that the Tigers were any more distracted than the Knights, whose coaches were balancing bowl prep with taking over Nebraska. So we can at least learn a few things from the Peach.
… really, it’s pretty weak. Auburn’s problem in the bowl game wasn’t that its coaches were distracted. It’s that its players weren’t particularly motivated. And if you’re going to play the “Auburn defeated both of the participants in the title game” card, don’t you have to acknowledge that both of those wins came in the friendly confines of Jordan Hare Stadium and that when Auburn faced Georgia three weeks later in a neutral site (the same one where the Peach Bowl was played, as a matter of fact), the Tigers lost far more decisively than they did to UCF?