As the UCF Knights move towards the Thanksgiving weekend and the end of the regular season, the silly season of bowl projections start to become a bit clearer.
Depending on where you look, UCF could end up in the Independence, Birmingham, Gasparilla, Cure, the insert random bowl name here, or maybe no bowl at all. All we know is that they need to win one more game against Houston this weekend.
So why is UCF up for ESPN-owned pooled bowl spots? Aren’t those meant for Group of Five schools?
Technically, yes. Most of the slots in the bowl games mentioned above are usually G5 pooled slots. Since ESPN owns the vast majority of the lower bowl games, they have been known to move matchups around to maximize the game. According to ESPN’s FPI, UCF should win this weekend to finish 6-6, but as we’ve learned with this year’s Knights squad, they are incredibly unpredictable. Here’s why UCF is a candidate for a G5 pooled spot.
The Big 12, which had 10 teams last year, had 6-8 bowl tie-ins. We’re still going through the current bowl contracts. With four new teams and BYU bringing their tie-in to the Independence Bowl, that gives up to 9 for 14 teams. That means there is a good chance the conference could produce more teams than contractual bowl slots.
Those bowl games are:
*CFP Semifinals(if a team qualifies)
*The NY6(Sugar if not a semifinal)
*Armed Forces/First Responder(Flex pick for the seventh choice and have multiple conference tie-ins)
Right now, the bowl-eligible teams in the Big 12 are Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Iowa State, Texas Tech, and Kansas. That’s eight teams right there. Teams that can become bowl-eligible with a win this week: UCF, TCU, and BYU. None of those final three play each other, so any, all, or none can become eligible.
The predictions are that there won’t be enough 6-6 teams to fill all the bowl slots, which opens the door for FBS newcomers James Madison and Jacksonville State along with some 5-7 schools, which get selected based on their APR. I saw UCF was 22nd in the last APR report if it means anything. They’re fifth in terms of who is currently or could end up with five wins. In other words, they’re likely a little too low to squeeze their way in, but no team with six wins is going to be left home*.
*James Madison and Jacksonville State got hosed by antiquated rules, so the only way they can get into a bowl game is if there are not enough 6-6 teams to go around.
It’s win or go home.
Now, let’s talk about potential bowl matchups. UCF, depending on where you look, could end up playing a number of different opponents depending on which bowl game they go to. CBS Sports currently has UCF playing Arkansas State in the Cure Bowl. This would be interesting for a number of reasons. It’s a rematch from 2016, UCF head coach Gus Malzahn was once ASU head coach for a spell, athletic director Terry Mohajir came from ASU, and the game relocated to FBC Mortgage Stadium this year. Another is UCF playing South Florida in the Gasparilla Bowl, which takes place in Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, a stadium the Knights have had plenty of history. This would also put the War-on-I4 football trophy on the line. Being in-state, while disappointing to some fans, would make travel to the game much easier for others.
Some fans are groaning that UCF could end up in a bowl game playing against a Group of Five opponent. That’s a bad mentality. UCF played Duke last year in the Military Bowl and that was a P5 vs G5 matchup. You go where you’re invited to go. Coaches love any bowl game because of the extra practices. The game itself is just the icing on the cake. Just because UCF is in the Big 12 now does not make them above playing a school from a G5 conference in a bowl game. Think of Florida’s position in regard to the 2021 Gasparilla Bowl.
For those groaning fans, Yahoo Sports currently predicts UCF vs Wisconsin in the Music City Bowl. This would be based on the prediction that the SEC does not have enough teams to fill their contracts. The SEC has nine teams currently eligible with three more needing another win to become eligible. Each of those three teams plays ranked opponents this week. The Knights would face a Big Ten team and get another chance to take down head coach Luke Fickell. Another projection by Fox Sports is predicting Texas climbing into the CFP semifinals(they’re currently seventh), which would shift the Big 12 teams up one and land UCF in the Liberty Bowl against Kentucky. I don’t find either of these matchups all that likely to occur. UCF playing in an in-state bowl game, either the Cure or Gasparilla, is the most likely outcome.
All of this bowl game talk is moot if UCF cannot take care of business against Houston at the Bounce House. So be there, be loud, and help continue UCF’s bowl streak to eight straight seasons.