by Jerry Palm
There are still seven undefeated teams in division I-A as we enter 2011, but two of them are considered longshots by most to even make the NCAA tournament.
UCF is intriguing. They are actually in the top 20 of the RPI and even ahead of Ohio State, but as they enter Conference USA play, that number has likely peaked. The Knights played an average non-conference schedule that has one sure quality win -- over Florida. They also beat Miami and South Florida.
Many people dismiss them because they figure that Memphis is still the overwhelming team to beat in the league, but I think they have set themselves up for a possbile at-large bid if they can perform well in the league.
Cincinnati, which is 14-0 and has two Big East wins already, is way down at 69th in the RPI this morning. That's a stunning number. I've been tracking RPI since 1993-94 and could not find a 14-0 team that far down. The last undefeated team on New Year's Day that far down in the rankings was Texas A&M in 2006 (95th at 10-0).
You have to play a pretty wretched schedule to be 69th at 14-0. The Bearcats played the 10th worst non-conference schedule, and they played most of those games at home. So far, they have played only one RPI top 100 team (No. 62 Dayton) and just six that rank better than 250th.
When you play a schedule like that, you are basically saying that you intend to make your case for the tournament in conference. That means not just muddling through, but doing very well. Cincinnati probably needs at least 12 wins, and even that may not do it for them. They cannot afford to be anywhere near the bottom of the at-large pool with a non-conference schedule that bad.