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The Playoff committee should either move up UCF or admit non-power teams aren’t Playoff-eligible

The top-ranked non-power being a longshot? That’s fair. The top-ranked non-power annually having no hope at all? Getting pretty old.

Central Florida v SMU Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Before 2017’s first College Football Playoff rankings dropped, I picked UCF and its dominant offense to land at No. 14. That would’ve made the Knights close to the highest-ranked mid-major ever (2015 Memphis, which debuted at No. 13), but they’d dusted a decent schedule in a year when that’s proved especially difficult for most teams. Somewhere around 14th seemed like a fair guess, considering the committee’s hesitance to rank teams from outside the Power 5.

Undefeated UCF started out at No. 18.

Disappointing, but not a shocker. The Playoff committee tends to be much lower on mid-majors than the polls, advanced stats, non-advanced stats, fans, and analysts are. No big deal! The CFP is only in charge of the sport’s postseason!

Then UCF beat a solid SMU on the road, holding the explosive Mustangs to nearly a season low in scoring. Meanwhile, three teams ranked right ahead of UCF lost by double digits while Mississippi State struggled with 2-6 UMass at home. Surely the Knights could jump a couple of those, at least?

Nope. The updated CFP top 25 held UCF at No. 18.

Iowa State fell behind UCF, while Michigan State (fairly) jumped half the top 25, but that was that.

The issue evidently comes down to strength of schedule. Chairperson Kirby Hocutt called it a “challenge” to rank a team with UCF’s schedule higher. Here’s how UCF compares with the other team whose schedule the committee is worried about, using a mix of numbers we know the committee uses and smarter numbers:

UCF vs. Wisconsin

Metric UCF Wisconsin
Metric UCF Wisconsin
Record 8-0 9-0
Best win 40-13 vs. #22 Memphis 33-24 vs. #25 Northwestern
Second best win 31-24 at 6-3 SMU 31-14 vs. 6-3 FAU
Third best win 31-21 at 5-3 Navy uhhh idk
vs. winning teams 4-0 2-0
Avg. score vs. FBS 45-18 36-12
vs. Big Ten 1-0 6-0
CPI #2 #8
Strength of Record #10 #8
S&P+ #5 #6
Resume S&P+ #7 #8
Offensive S&P+ #2 #30
Defensive S&P+ #62 #6
Massey Composite #9 #5
Playoff ranking #18 #8

You tell me what UW’s done to deserve being 10 spots ahead.

I’m not arguing for UCF to be ranked ahead of Wisconsin, a team on course to be Playoff-worthy. I’m arguing for UCF to at least be ranked ahead of, say, Virginia Tech, whose second-best win is over Boston College, or Mississippi State, who’s had three bad games in nine tries.

I’m also not calling for UCF to be ranked in the top five or even top 10. But when the Playoff committee was already the outlier at ranking a team and then made no change despite that team’s resume improving even as those around it stumbled, it’s another data point (committee term) to add to the argument that the Playoff is designed to exclude mid-majors.

Non-powers that rack up lots of W’s can be tough to rank correctly, sure.

The first year of committee rankings famously saw Marshall go unranked until it’d reached 11-0 with lots of blowout wins over weak teams, at which point the Herd hit No. 24. That team finished 13-1 ... but only No. 53 in opponent-adjusted S&P+. In that case, ranking Marshall lower than everyone else proved to be defensible.

But did the committee let that correct assessment color its perception of non-power teams indefinitely? We have no idea, since they barely explain any of these rankings at any point.

All UCF can do is keep winning and try to take it out on a Power 5 team on New Year’s.

Ask 2013’s Big 12 champion about that.