MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) - Unbeaten and uninvited last year, UCF could still find its way into this year’s College Football Playoff.
That is, if the Knights keep winning.
CFP executive director Bill Hancock said that the Knights - who have the nation’s longest winning streak at 16 games - will once again get evaluated the same way as every other team does when the committee that will ultimately decide the four playoff-bound teams this season gathers to crunch numbers and pick a field.
“Yes, there is a path,” Hancock said Thursday before attending the North Carolina-Miami game at Hard Rock Stadium, the site of one of this year’s CFP semifinals. “UCF got full consideration from the committee last year. I believe the committee at the end of the season had ranked UCF higher than the sports writers and the coaches had. So they got every consideration and they had a wonderful season.”
It just wasn’t wonderful enough.
UCF appeared in all six sets of CFP rankings last season - always as the lowest-ranked unbeaten. UCF was behind four twice-beaten teams in the first rankings a year ago, then eight in the second set of rankings. Eventually, the CFP selectors had UCF behind three-loss teams and ended up putting the Knights at No. 12 in the final ranking.
The Knights are 3-0 this season, coming off a win last week over Florida Atlantic.
“If UCF has a different logo on their shirt, by their name, SEC, ACC or something, you guys are voting them top probably six in the country,” FAU coach Lane Kiffin, who’s been a part of a few different national-title runs, told reporters after that game. “Nation’s longest winning streak, two blowouts already this season. That’s a really good team.”
The Knights claimed a national title last season, even throwing themselves a parade and handing out rings. The argument was further supported by UCF finishing last season ranked No. 1 in the Colley Matrix rankings, which was once a part of the formula used by the now-defunct Bowl Championship Series - the precursor to the CFP.
“We’ve got a great brand,” UCF coach Josh Heupel said.
It’s still early, and the CFP race is still quite muddled.
There are 21 unbeatens left at the FBS level, and that number will fall by at least three this weekend - with Ohio State vs. Penn State, Syracuse vs. Clemson and Stanford vs. Notre Dame being on Saturday’s schedule. All six of those teams enter the weekend with 4-0 records.
UCF, ranked No. 13 in the AP Top 25, plays host to Pittsburgh on Saturday. UCF then has seven consecutive American Athletic Conference games to end the regular season and could be favored in every one.
“We can just handle what we can handle,” UCF tight end Michael Colubiale said. “We go out and win every week and prove ourselves. We don’t really want to compare ourselves to other teams. If we just keep winning, I think the argument will be pretty settled.”
The first CFP rankings will be released weekly starting Oct. 30, running through bowl selection day on Dec. 2. The Orange Bowl and Cotton Bowl will serve as this year’s semifinal games on Dec. 29, followed by the CFP title game in Santa Clara, California on Jan. 7.
UCF, should it stay unbeaten, will almost certainly be in those first rankings.
The question is, where?
The knock on UCF last season wasn’t its record, obviously, but the quality of its schedule. And this year’s schedule isn’t exactly loaded with big-time powers either, so even another unbeaten year won’t guarantee the Knights a CFP invite.
“For the path, play a good schedule, win your games,” Hancock said, “and you’re going to be in the hunt for the College Football Playoff.”
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