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For non Power 5 schools like Central Florida, winning doesn't always result in the ultimate payoff

For non Power 5 schools like Central Florida, winning doesn't always result in the ultimate payoff
Central Florida's Alex Swenson, second from right, is congratulated by teammates after scoring a touchdown against East Carolina on Saturday. The Knights are undefeated in their last 20 games. (Karl B DeBlaker / Associated Press)

For the little guys of college football, winning isn’t always enough.

Maybe that’s why Central Florida athletic director Danny White fired another shot across the bow last weekend.

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Following a victory over East Carolina, which stretched the Knights’ undefeated streak to a national-best 20 games, White questioned why his team from the smaller Group of Five conferences isn’t getting more respect.

“Sports should be all about wins and losses and not the brand on the jersey,” White stated in a social media post on Sunday night. “College football has become a subjective popularity contest.”

In case you’ve forgotten, Central Florida is the program that proclaimed itself the unofficial national champion — and held a victory parade at Disney World — after finishing with a 13-0 record last season.

And it’s probably no coincidence that the latest noise out of Orlando comes roughly a week before College Football Playoff voters issue the first in a series of weekly rankings leading up to the Dec. 2 selection day.

The current power structure favors the Power Five conferences, mandating that only the top Group of Five team is guaranteed an invitation to one of the prestigious New Year’s Six bowl games.

Central Florida is leading that race, hovering at No. 10 in the Associated Press poll this week, well ahead of No. 21 South Florida, with the teams set to meet in a regular-season finale on Nov. 23.

As for a spot in the final four and the CFP playoffs? That’s another matter entirely.

Parades and proclamations notwithstanding, the Knights’ perfect record in 2017-18 got them no higher than No. 12 in the selection-day rankings. As White wrote: “The Knights represent all of the teams who — for reasons of history, geography or politics — are left out of the club.”

The CFP selection committee might offer a different point of view.

Strength of schedule is explicitly listed among the criteria that voters must consider. And that’s where the Group of Five teams hit a roadblock on the path to the national title.

The Knights could argue that they proved their worth last season by defeating Auburn in the Peach Bowl, but that argument might not get them very far.

This fall, with such opponents as South Carolina State, followed by a slate of games in the American Athletic Conference, Central Florida’s strength of schedule does not rank highly.

Just listen to what CFP executive director Bill Hancock had to say about the matter during the Southeastern Conference media days in the summer.

“We have consistently congratulated UCF on a great [2017-18] season,” he said. “It was a wonderful team and a great team to watch.”

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But, Hancock added, “For the College Football Playoff, things are simple: Play a good schedule, win your games, and you're going to be in the hunt. That holds true for UCF and Houston and Northern Illinois, as well as Alabama and Ohio State and Texas and Washington.”

All of this adds fuel to the push for expanded playoffs that would include, say, eight teams. There would be enough room for the champions from each Power Five conference, a couple more strong contenders and, theoretically, the winner of the Cinderella derby.

Not that all the smaller schools are upset about the system as it currently exists.

In the town of Boone, N.C. — population 19,458, just down the road from Blowing Rock — the folks at Appalachian State seemed fairly ecstatic at rising to No. 25 in the nation this week, making their first-ever appearance in the AP poll.

“It’s pretty awesome,” coach Scott Satterfield said. “I told our team, hey, it’s great recognition and you’re to be commended for that.”

Satterfield did not spend much time pondering implications for the CFP race, not with a crucial Sun Belt Conference showdown coming up on Thursday night.

The ranking, he said, “doesn’t win you any football games and it’s not going to beat Georgia Southern.”

Six hundred miles to the south, White insisted the CFP is “a broken model” and encouraged Central Florida fans to continue using social media “to have their voices heard.”

In a follow-up tweet on Monday, he further contended that the Knights have struggled to find Power Five schools willing to face them.

“We welcome home and home against an Autonomy conference team — we want to play 2 every year — and I’m always looking for good teams to play,” he posted.

For now, with Temple and Navy coming up on the schedule, the Knights are favored to extend their undefeated streak but probably won’t make much headway in the initial CFP rankings.

For the little guys, winning isn’t always enough.

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