The cold, hard truth about why UCF won't make the Playoff ... and doesn't really deserve to be in the discussion
It’s not the schedule, necessarily, though UCF’s Group of 5 slate certainly is the primary reason for the 23-game winning streak, which is the primary reason UCF considers itself Playoff worthy.
It’s not the lack of skill players either, though it remains to be seen whether talented QB McKenzie Milton will even be drafted. At 5-11, 185, it’s hardly a lock, gaudy stats be damned.
The reason UCF doesn’t belong in the Playoff begins and ends where all championship hopes live and die: Up front. On both sides of the ball.
Simply put: UCF’s offensive and defensive lines don’t measure up. They didn’t last year and they don’t this year. There is zero chance either unit would survive an 8-game SEC schedule unscathed.
How can I so definitively and defiantly make those statements? Because other SEC teams, with far more talent on both lines, haven’t either.
Sportswriters who comprise the AP Poll aren’t going to dive into the recruiting backgrounds and NFL Draft histories of these programs. They’re going to attend the games of teams they cover, scan box scores and highlights for everybody else and submit their ballot. UCF looks spectacular through that under-educated prism.
It’s highly unlikely most know, for example, UCF recruited just 2 4-star players on its roster. Or that the Knights’ starting offensive and defensive lines are composed entirely of 2-star and 3-star prospects.
The Playoff committee knows, however, that lines like UCF’s don’t hold up in Power 5 conferences. Lines like that lead to .500 seasons and fired coaches, not bogus, artificial claims of national championships.
This isn’t meant to rip UCF, which hit an all-time high No. 9 in the Playoff rankings Tuesday. It’s meant entirely to provide a sorely missing perspective on what the Knights are, and what the Knights are not. The Knights are a great story.
But everything is relative. UCF isn’t facing 9 or 10 offensive and defensive fronts full of 4-star talent. In its conference, it never has to deal with 2 5-star OL or DL from the same team, a matter of survival in the SEC. UCF’s athletes — and the Knights definitely have game-breakers who could play and perhaps excel in the SEC — mask those issues with quick bursts and long runs. Crooked numbers appear quickly, from anywhere on the field.
Knights fans already are heading to the comments section. Let me save you the time: Congratulations on beating Auburn, with a month’s rest and a month to prepare for a team that didn’t want to be there. And still nearly won.
Carl Lewis couldn’t make the jump from beating Auburn once to going undefeated in the SEC, so I’d highly recommend that you don’t try, either.
The numbers don’t lie. They’re real. These are the recruiting hauls from the past four seasons. I’ll let you figure out which program is Team G and Team H (hint: Vanderbilt is one of them … and I don’t think the Commodores are Playoff material).
Combined 4-stars, 5-stars by recruiting class
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Those numbers speak to the uphill battle that UCF would face if it played in a Power 5 conference.
These numbers speak to the downhill slope UCF faces in the American:
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There’s no comparison. I could make a more compelling case — I think I already have — that UCF is closer to Vanderbilt than it is to a Playoff team.
But just in case there was any doubt, let’s circle back to the primary reason the Knights don’t seriously belong in the Playoff discussion: the lack of elite talent in the trenches. This next batch of numbers isn’t based on subjective recruiting rankings, which some say don’t matter.
This is a look at NFL Draft picks from 2012-2018. I compared every SEC team with UCF. I’ll spare you the full breakdown, but here are the bullet points:
In the past 7 drafts, UCF has had 12 players selected. Only 3 went in the first round, and only QB Blake Bortles went in the top 25 of the first round.
Vanderbilt had 11 players drafted in that span, including 4 who played on the OL or DL.
Every single SEC team had multiple players from its OL or DL drafted in the past 7 years. Eleven of the 14 SEC teams have had 7 or more from the trenches taken.
Alabama, of course, is the outlier, which is why I didn’t start this debate with them. The Crimson Tide have had 61 players taken in that span, 19 in the first round. Twenty-one of those draft picks played on the OL or DL.
Twenty-one. You want to know why Alabama has dominated the past decade? That’s why.
You want to know why this UCF team would have 4 losses if it played in the SEC? That’s why.
You want to know why UCF would not hold up to an 8-game schedule in the SEC? That’s why.
Even the worst SEC teams have skill talent galore. Vanderbilt has an NFL-caliber QB, too. That’s not nearly enough.
I know that’s not what UCF fans want to hear, and turning the clock ahead to midnight isn’t exactly my idea of fun, either. I love a good story. But it’s bed time, and I like facts more.
Somebody has to stop the madness. It’s gone on long enough.
Danny Kanell loves to prop up the Knights and thinks they could go toe-to-toe with Georgia or Alabama.
I’d love to see Kanell say that while standing behind the Knights’ offensive line.