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Week 9: Who Should UCF Root For?

With UCF on a bye week, what results do they need to have an outside shot at making the College Football Playoff?

Spectrum Stadium
Spectrum Stadium
Derek Warden

With the UCF Knights on a bye week, now is a good time to check in and see who exactly Knight fans should root for in the coming weeks. All arguments about whether UCF deserves to be in the College Football Playoff aside, it’s time for us to seriously think about the path ahead for the Knights if they hope to have any chance of making the CFP.

Let’s be clear: The road will be VERY difficult, and even if everything falls into place, the CFP Committee may still keep the Knights locked out. But at the very least, we can establish some objectives, and then we’ll see who UCF needs to lose if they want to have a non-zero hope of crashing the party.

Objective #1: Win out.

This is the key. Lose one game, and the Knights’ CFP-crashing hopes are dashed.

The Knights’ remaining games look like this:

UCF’s Remaining Regular Season Games

Date Opponent Record AAC S&P+
Date Opponent Record AAC S&P+
Thu, Nov. 1 Temple 5-3 4-0 36
Sat, Nov. 10 Navy 2-5 1-3 100
Sat, Nov. 17 Cincinnati 6-1 2-1 32
Fri, Nov. 23 @ South Florida 7-0 3-0 40

Note that Temple, Cincinnati and South Florida are probably the three toughest games UCF has left. Then there’s Navy, who is not having a good year, but Triple Option and all that. This won’t be easy, but given that UCF will not leave the state of Florida after this weekend’s bye, the schedule works out about as nicely as it could have.

Even so, UCF only has about a 32% chance - one in three - of winning out, according to ESPN’s FPI, despite being favored in all remaining games.

Bottom line: If the Knights win out, they deserve it.

Objective #1A: Win The American, preferably against Houston.

Next comes the American Athletic Conference Championship Game, set for 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, December 1 on ABC, at the home stadium of the division winner with the best record.

If UCF wins out, they would host the game at Spectrum Stadium for the second straight year, as everyone in the AAC West has at least one loss in the regular season.

The Knights need to hope Houston (6-1, 3-0 AAC, S&P+ #27) finishes out the season as strongly as possible. The other five teams in the West are all mediocre to terrible, so beating Houston would give the Knights more ammo for their argument, especially if the Cougars finish ranked in the Top 25.

But if Houston slips and SMU or (somehow) Tulane sneak into the Championship Game, UCF may indeed blow them out, but it won’t matter in the eyes of the voters at all.

Objective #2: Hope a LOT of dominoes fall.

Here’s where it gets fun.

As we know, an undefeated UCF will not get into the CFP simply by virtue of beating undefeated. It’s unfortunate, but as my friend Eric Lopez likes to remind me, that’s how it is.

So exactly who does UCF need to lose?

Well, the answer isn’t “everybody.” But the way we figure, the Knights need one or two clear - and possibly undefeated - conference champions to get in, and then total and complete chaos.

For this, we go outside the SB Nation circle of trust (Apologies to Bill Connelly) and head over to FiveThirtyEight, who have developed an interactive prediction machine that allows you to calculate the percentage odds a team has to get into the Playoff (among other things).

You can visit that model here.

I played around with it and tried to maximize UCF’s percentage chances of making the CFP, which right now stand as just 4%.

The most obvious boost is if UCF wins out, something FiveThirtyEight’s model says they have just a 28% chance of doing. Click that and the Knights’ chances go up to 15%. Not great, but not zero.

Then I played around with each individual team in the AP Top 15 to see if winning or losing helps or hurts UCF’s CFP percentage.

So assuming UCF wins out and takes the AAC crown with a 12-0 record, here’s what we need to happen this week:

What UCF Needs to Happen in Week 9

AP Rank Team Record S&P+ Opponent UCF Needs Them To... UCF CFP% Chance Increase
AP Rank Team Record S&P+ Opponent UCF Needs Them To... UCF CFP% Chance Increase
1 Alabama 8-0 1 BYE - -
2 Clemson 7-0 2 @ Florida State LOSE 3%
3 Notre Dame 7-0 7 Navy LOSE 10%
4 LSU 7-1 15 BYE - -
5 Michigan 7-1 4 BYE - -
6 Texas 6-1 38 @ Oklahoma St. LOSE 1%
7 Georgia 6-1 5 #9 Florida Doesn't Matter 0%
8 Oklahoma 6-1 3 Kansas State LOSE 5%
9 Florida 6-1 14 #7 Georgia Doesn't Matter 0%
10 UCF 7-0 11 BYE - -
11 Ohio State 7-1 8 BYE - -
12 Kentucky 6-1 28 @ Missouri LOSE 1%
13 West Virginia 5-1 23 BYE - -
14 Washington St. 6-1 24 @ #24 Stanford LOSE 1%
15 Washington 6-2 6 @ California LOSE 3%
Data: FiveThirtyEight

Interestingly enough, the USF-Houston game also pops up in the table. Given an undefeated UCF, and according to the model for this week, the Knights need USF to win over Houston, since that would boost UCF’s CFP chance by one percentage point, where a Houston victory over the Bulls would drop UCF’s chances one percentage point. It’s not much, but every little bit helps.

I know. Yuck.

So here’s your UCF Bye Week viewing slate.

Based on all of that, in order from who would help UCF the most to the least:

  • Navy (+23.5) vs. #3 Notre Dame in San Diego (8 p.m., CBS)
  • Kansas State (+24.5) at #8 Oklahoma (3:30 p.m., FOX)
  • Florida State (+17) vs. #2 Clemson (Noon, ABC)
  • Cal (+12) vs. #15 Washington (6:30 p.m., FS1)
  • Oklahoma State (+3.5) vs. #6 Texas (8 p.m., ABC)
  • Missouri (-7) vs. #12 Kentucky (4 p.m., SEC Network)
  • #24 Stanford (-3) vs. #14 Washington State (7 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
  • #21 South Florida (+7.5) at Houston (3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2)

Oh, and for Georgia-Florida, it doesn’t matter. Root for whomever you want. Or not.

My hope is we’ll do this every week the rest of the way, updating the Knights’ chances as we go. Either way, Enjoy the weekend!