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UCF’s American Championship Game Scenarios, Explained

Yes, they can still win it. No, it won’t be easy.

AAC Championship - Memphis v Central Florida
UCF last won The American in 2018
Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Despite losing to Navy last Saturday, the UCF Knights head into the final week of the regular season with a shot at making The American Championship Game on December 3rd. And despite having no shot to host, that means UCF could still get into a New Year’s Six Bowl if they win the league.

There are a lot of scenarios at play, thanks to The American’s convoluted tiebreaking procedures. So, let’s attempt to untangle all of it:

Right Now

First, here are the current standings atop The American with the latest CFP rankings. Only four teams can qualify for the championship game:

American Athletic Conference Standings

Team Conference Overall CFP Ranking
Team Conference Overall CFP Ranking
Cincinnati 6-1 9-2 25
Tulane 6-1 9-2 21
UCF 5-2 8-3 20
Houston 5-2 7-4 -
Standings and rankings as of November 21, 2022 Only these four teams can qualify for the AAC Championship Game

And here are the relevant games this coming weekend:

  • Tulane at Cincinnati — Friday at Noon on ABC
  • UCF at South Florida — Saturday at 7 p.m. on ESPN2
  • Tulsa at Houston — Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on ESPNU

The winner of Tulane vs. Cincinnati will host the championship. Obviously, one of them has to lose, so that’s where things get wild.


The American’s tiebreaker procedures between two teams are pretty straightforward:

  1. Head-to-head
  2. Highest-ranked team in the CFP Rankings
  3. Other stuff we don’t need to worry about

Here’s what UCF needs:

Step 1: Beat South Florida on Saturday

If UCF loses to the Bulls, it’s game over. Three conference losses would drop them down to no higher than third place.

If UCF wins, go to Step 2.

Step 2: Root for Tulsa to beat Houston Saturday

If UCF wins and Tulsa (4-7, 2-5 AAC) beats Houston (7-4, 5-2 AAC) Saturday night, UCF gets into the title game and will face the winner of Cincinnati and Tulane at their place by virtue of having the head-to-head tiebreaker over the loser of that game.

If UCF wins and Houston beats Tulsa, go to Step 3:

Step 3: Three-way Tiebreaker MADNESS

Here’s where it gets really drunk. We give you The American’s three-way tiebreaker procedures:

Source: The American’s Tiebreaker Procedures

Rule 7.3: UCF beat Tulane, and Tulane beat Houston. But Houston did not play UCF or Cincinnati this season. So we go to:

Rule 7.4: Either Tulane or Cincinnati will have to lose on the final weekend, so this tiebreaker would go into effect.

Heading into Tuesday night, UCF (20), Tulane (21), and Cincinnati (25) were all ranked heading into last weekend. That could change this coming Tuesday when the newest rankings are revealed.

Cue Rule 7.5.

Per the legendary Chuck Sullivan at The American:

If there is a three-way tie (with the Cincinnati-Tulane loser, UCF, and Houston), then this Tuesday’s CFP rankings come into play.

If UCF is ranked by the CFP (assuming that Cincinnati and Tulane remain ranked), UCF would advance with a win against South Florida. The applicable factor here is that the highest-ranked team in the most recent CFP rankings that wins in the final week moves on.

In a three-way tie, if UCF is not ranked by the CFP (and assuming that Houston isn’t either), then the second team would be determined by a set of computer rankings issued next Sunday (EDITOR’S NOTE: That’s November 27th). So UCF would need to be the highest-rated team compared with Houston and the loser of Cincinnati-Tulane.

Rule 7.5.1 means the winner of Cincy and Tulane gets in. If UCF is not ranked in the upcoming CFP rankings and wins Saturday, that takes us to 7.5.2, the dreaded Computer Rankings Composite.

The set of computer rankings the AAC uses are:

Here’s where the four key AAC teams all rank in those respective computer rankings:

AAC Tiebreaker Computer Rankings Composite

Team Average Anderson/Hester Billingsley Colley Wolfe
Team Average Anderson/Hester Billingsley Colley Wolfe
Tulane 24.00 26 21 25 24
Cincinnati 26.25 31 18 26 30
UCF 33.25 35 34 29 35
Houston 46.00 49 47 45 43
Rankings as of November 21, 2022

As you can see, this is not good for UCF, and playing South Florida, no matter how badly UCF beats them, won’t help.

So UCF is in a real pickle here after losing to Navy.

So what do we need right now?

Tuesday night’s CFP Rankings are the next hurdle and they can be a game changer.

If UCF remains ranked, that’s great news, because it means the Knights will advance to the championship game if they win in Tampa on Saturday by virtue of Rule 7.5.3.

One positive indicator: Despite the Navy loss, UCF is still in the AP Top 25:

If the CFP uses the AP Top 25 as a guide, that’s good for UCF.

However, if UCF is unranked on Tuesday night, all bets are off, and only two avenues will remain: win and have Houston lose to Tulsa, or win and hope for a favorable draw from the computer rankings. In this situation, based on the above computer rankings, Cincinnati losing might work out better for UCF than having Tulane lose.

So, we wait. See you Tuesday.