Supremacy Chatter: Why now is the time for fans of SEC contenders to root against UCF
SEC fans don’t need another reason to root against UCF. That much we know.
This claimed national championship has been an annoyance for plenty of Alabama and Auburn fans. Depending on whom you ask, you can usually find someone willing to take a jab or two at the Knights for their self-appointed title.
I’ll bet if I took a straw poll of SEC fans, most would say that yeah, they were rooting for Lane Kiffin’s FAU squad to roll into Orlando and blow the doors off No. 16 UCF on Friday night.
That, however, didn’t happen. Instead, the Knights continued the nation’s longest winning streak (16 games) and kept their Playoff hopes alive in a standalone showcase game.
Yes, the Knights have Playoff hopes. And yes, they could actually make an impact on the SEC this year.
No, that isn’t my way of saying UCF is stealing the SEC’s Playoff bid. It’s my way of saying that UCF could steal the SEC’s second Playoff bid.
Wait a minute. Why would that happen this year when UCF couldn’t come anywhere near the top four last year? There are a few reasons.
For starters, UCF will likely be in the top 15 in Sunday’s Associated Press Top 25. It took until November for that to happen last year. That’s the benefit of coming in with the preseason attention that UCF had.
One of the more noteworthy topics of conversation after UCF’s 13-0, Playoff-less season was what it would take for a Group of 5 team to make the field (I actually argued why Kiffin’s squad would have a legitimate chance if it could somehow run the table with an Oklahoma win to boot, but that didn’t happen … at all).
But if you don’t necessarily believe my explanation for what it would take, go with the answer that P.J. Fleck gave me at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago a few months ago. Fleck, as you’ll recall, went 13-0 at Western Michigan in 2016 but settled for the Group of 5 bid for the New Year’s 6.
“I was asked a question today, ‘Do you feel like a Group of 5 team should be able to (make the Playoff) now that you’re not in the Group of 5?’ I said, ‘Absolutely. I’m a huge advocate of that,’” Fleck told me back in July. “I’m sure (former UCF coach) Scott Frost might say the same thing. But I think the ability for that to happen might not happen for a while. And I think the possibility of that ever happening is there.
“Maybe you need to go 13-0, 13-0. They say last year doesn’t affect this year, but I think that might start to turn the tide a little bit. If you have a team go 26-0, you force somebody to do something.”
UCF might force the selection committee to do something. If the Knights are again sitting there at 13-0 — rescheduling another game with a Power 5 team after the Hurricane Florence cancelation would be beneficial — they could force the selection committee to pick between the Knights and another 11-1 SEC team that doesn’t win a conference title.
That matters for a variety of SEC teams, particularly those in the SEC West. Let’s say hypothetically that LSU ends the regular season with its lone blemish a loss to Alabama, but they don’t get a chance to play in the SEC Championship (what Alabama did last year). Or for the sake of Auburn, let’s say that lone loss is to LSU.
Maybe even a 12-0 Georgia team that loses its first game in the SEC Championship could be a legitimate candidate for a Playoff bid.
Even without a resume full of top-25 wins, UCF can still spoil the SEC’s two-team bid.
It’d be awfully tough for the selection committee to turn its nose up at UCF a second straight year … only to let in another non-SEC champ. It might not matter that barring a hurricane makeup game, the Knights have only one Power 5 team on their remaining schedule. And no offense, Pitt, but that’s different than winning at Oklahoma like FAU feebly attempted to do.
Consecutive unbeaten seasons would be loud. Real loud.
Did the SEC put itself in even better position than last year for a two-team bid? For sure. Nobody can argue against the fact that every SEC contender won all of their marquee nonconference games. The conference supremacy argument isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Shoot, it wouldn’t even be that surprising to see a one-loss, non-SEC champ make the field over another one-loss Power 5 conference champ, depending on who it is.
But undefeated UCF? That’s when all of those resume arguments get stickier. It won’t just be 13-0. It’ll be 26-0.
There’s obviously a long way to go for that to happen, even after the Knights took down FAU in convincing fashion. UCF does still have the game against giant-killer Pitt next week, and trips to Memphis and South Florida won’t be picnics, either.
If the Knights get through them unscathed, though, they can easily become ants at the SEC’s Playoff picnic.