As Hurricane Florence barrels its way into the Carolina coastline, football season still moves on. Several games in the region have been postponed, moved locations, or moved up their kickoffs to avoid the storm, including ACC matchup Boston College @ Wake Forest and #2 Clemson’s tune-up game vs Georgia Southern.
However, as of Thursday afternoon, five FBS games have been outright canceled, including three games featuring ranked teams. #12 Virginia Tech, #14 West Virginia, and #18 UCF will all be sitting at home on Saturday as Florence rains down as much as 40 inches of rain on their scheduled game sites.
The schools will be working to reschedule these games, but due to scheduling restraints, that may not be possible. For Virginia Tech and West Virginia, this isn’t much of a problem. Even without these games (and presumably wins) on their record, their overall resumés won’t change too much. An 11-0 record or even a 10-1 record will be enough to secure a major bowl appearance and possibly a spot in the College Football Playoff.
This exact scenario happened to LSU in the innaugural Playoff rankings in 2015. The Tigers had to cancel their opening game against McNeese State due to inclement weather and moved a road game against South Carolina to a home game due to flooding in the region. They still were ranked #2 by the committee at the time.
The same can not be said for UCF.
Because of their much weaker strength of schedule due to playing in the AAC instead of a power-5 conference like the ACC or Big 12, UCF will need all the help they can get to make it into the Playoff.
Last season, for example, the Knights were the only undefeated team in country, had the #5 offense, the #1 scoring offense, won their conference, beat 3 ranked teams, and won the Peach Bowl handily over #7 Auburn. By all accounts, UCF was a playoff team.
They finished at #12 in the Playoff rankings and were only #6 after their bowl win, while a statistically worse Alabama went on to win the National Championship.
Despite claiming that they are the true reigning national champions, UCF had one goal this season: make the Playoff and play for the real national championship. So far, they’ve followed the plan perfectly, winning their first 2 games 56-17 and 38-0 leading up to their matchup this week against ACC opponents North Carolina.
Because of Hurricane Florence, this game will almost certainly no longer happen. Without this game, UCF’s best opponent will be South Florida at the end of the season, with only 1 other power-5 team (Pitt) left on the schedule for September 29.
Without a full schedule, UCF could still go 11-0, win their conference, and have a top offense…..and still get nowhere near the Playoff. Even after not losing a game in 2 years, the Knights could find themselves in the same position as last season, stuck on the outside lookin in due to things outside of their control forcing them to only play 11 games.
To put into perspective how difficult UCF’s road to the Playoff already was, in the entire history of the College Football Playoff rankings, the highest a non-power-5 team has ever been ranked by the committee was UCF last season at #12, still a full 8 rankings below the actual Playoff.
The good news for the Knights is that they have last season as part of their opening resumé. In 2017, UCF was coming off a 6-7 campaign and a loss to Arkansas State in the Cure Bowl. In 2018, UCF is coming off a 13-0 “national championship” season and a win over a top-10 team in a New Year’s Six bowl.
This shows in their current ranking of #18. In 2017, UCF wasn’t even ranked until week 5 and didn’t reach #18 until week 8.
This season, Knights fans are hoping to have a trophy to go along with their national championship. A real parade, real championship shirts and hats, and a real national title. Ironically enough, they had to cancel a game against another ACC opponent this exact week for a Hurricane Irma last season. So perhaps Florence is just a good (or maybe bad) omen.
Without their game against North Carolina, their task has become much, much harder. All the team can do now is rally and come back next week against FAU, and all the fans can do is keep up their support. Orlando is already behind the Knights. By the end of the season, their hope is that they will have done enough in their shortened season to get the Playoff committee behind them as well.
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Photo Credit: NOAA, WLTX Columbia, Getty Images