OPINION: ‘Path’ for AAC teams to College Football Playoff is not real

Some USF fans may not like that this space will be pro-UCF today. The rivalry is heated and only stands to get more intense this year.

That’s great. It really is.

But UCF is about to again be overlooked by the College Football Playoff selection committee and it needs as many allies as it can get, no matter where they come from.

The Knights’ complaints from 2017 are well-documented, culminating in a national championship claim that may have been as much about disrupting the status quo as it was a claim to being the best team in FBS. UCF was the only undefeated FBS team in 2017.

Things don’t appear to be any more favorable in 2018 for the Knights than they were last year.

Last week, College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock said that UCF has a “path” toward the College Football Playoff.

“Yes, there is a path,” Hancock said Thursday. “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.”

Nice deflection. Hancock mentioned the AP and Coaches polls as if that had anything to do with what the CFP committee did.

It’s also not true.

The final CFP ranking, released Dec. 3, had the Knights at No. 12, while both the AP and Coaches polls had UCF at No. 10.

Hancock did preface that claim with “I believe,” so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt that he doesn’t remember the specific details of the case involving his organization's most prominent critic.

So, what’s the “path” then?

“For the path, play a good schedule, win your games, and you’re going to be in the hunt for the College Football Playoff,” Hancock said.

That “path” shouldn’t surprise anyone. That’s been the talking point of the anti-UCF — really, anti-anybody outside the Power-Five crowd.

The logic in the “path” appears to be the top teams in college football play the best of the best whenever they can.

But do they?

Let’s analyze the 2018 out-of-conference schedule of last season’s CFP champions, the Alabama Crimson Tide of the big, bad Southeastern Conference.

Week 1 – Louisville
An above-average, but not overwhelming, Power-Five opponent. Louisville went 8-5 last season and is off to a 2-3 start in 2018, but it was the ACC Atlantic co-champion in 2016.

Week 2 – Arkansas State
An average Sun Belt team — 7-5 last season and off to a 3-2 start this year. Don’t look up the score from this game if you’re faint of heart.

Week 5 – Louisiana
Another Sun Belt team, though this one is below average. The Ragin’ Cajuns — yes, that’s their real name — finished 5-7 in 2017 and fired coach Mark Hudspeth after the season. First-year coach Billy Napier has his team off to a 1-3 start. This game was a laugher in both the score and the fact that Alabama played it.

Week 11 – The Citadel
Ah, a nice FCS opponent to serve as a warmup for the Iron Bowl against Auburn the next week. While anything can happen in college football, it’s probably safe to assume this will be a rout by the Crimson Tide.

Man, if that schedule doesn’t scream “It just means more,” nothing does.

For the sake of comparison, UCF’s 2018 out-of-conference schedule consists of South Carolina State, North Carolina, Florida Atlantic and Pittsburgh. So one FCS opponent, one Group of Five opponent and two Power-Five opponents.

UCF actually scheduled more Power-Five opponents than Alabama did, although the Knights’ game against North Carolina was canceled due to Hurricane Florence. UCF also has the same number of FCS opponents on its schedule as the Crimson Tide.

There’s nothing the Knights — nor the Crimson Tide, for that matter — can do about their conference schedule. They have to play the teams the AAC sends them, good or bad, in the same way Alabama plays its SEC opponents, good or bad.

And, yes, there are bad SEC teams. For example, Arkansas is 1-4 in 2018, with losses to one-win Colorado State and Conference USA’s North Texas really highlighting its season.

So, if teams can really only control their out-of-conference schedules, what’s actually going on here?

It seems the message being sent is that the AAC is not good enough to hang with Power-Five programs. Anyone who has paid even the slightest attention to college football the last few years has received that message loud and clear. After all, the AAC is grouped in the Group of Five with the MAC, Sun Belt, Mountain West and Conference USA.

But is the assumption that AAC teams can’t handle Power-Five opponents actually true?

AAC teams are 6-7 against Power-Five opponents this season. That’s not only completely respectable, but also comparable to the Big Ten’s 7-7 record against the other four Power conferences plus Power independents BYU and Notre Dame. The AAC may not pack the punch it did during its days as the Big East, but to act like it can’t hang with the Power-Five isn’t fair either.

So does UCF actually have a “path” toward the College Football Playoff?

Probably not.

The fact that the executive director said there is a “path” rather than just saying the Knights will be considered based on the merits of their season pretty much says all there is to say about what the College Football Playoff thinks about UCF and the conference it plays in.

“Play a good schedule,” after all.

If a similar, perhaps better, out-of-conference slate as Alabama’s is not enough to demand at least similar respect for its schedule, then does it really matter if UCF takes care of business against the likes of SMU or East Carolina?

The team with the longest winning streak in FBS, currently at 17 games, has a ceiling over its head because of the conference it plays in.

Are you listening, USF fans? This affects the Bulls as well.

No matter how good any AAC team is — be it USF, UCF or anyone else — its best will never be good enough in the eyes of the College Football Playoff selection committee.

That’s why UCF needs as many allies as it can get, whether they be in Orlando or Tampa.

The College Football Playoff replaced the Bowl Championship Series in an effort to allow more good teams a shot at the ultimate prize.

All it’s really done is delay the knowledge of the championship game matchup a month, because it sure doesn’t seem like more teams are in contention than during the BCS days.

It cheapens the meaning of a good team’s season when it’s told the best it can do is a New Year’s Six bid.

This sport is ridiculous sometimes.