UCF reached a rite of passage last week that all programs with dreams of one day winning a national title must go through. It lost to Pitt a game it was heavily favored to win. It might be the single most important moment in the history of the UCF program. Perhaps one day in the distant future, when UCF is hoisting up the national title trophy, we'll all look back on that loss and decide it was the loss that made everything possible.
In the not-so-distant right now, though, it's a big blow to UCF's hopes in 2019. The Knights already had slim chances of reaching the playoff, and now that they have a loss, they don't have any. There's still a good chance the Knights can get back to a New Year's Six bowl if they win the AAC, but for this week's Friday Five, I'm playing a little what-if.
What if UCF isn't the Group of Five's participant in the New Years Six this season? What if the Knights lose another game, or see another G5 team surpass them in the rankings? Based on what we've seen so far, which team would it be?
Let's figure it out together.
5. Appalachian State: If we're all being honest with ourselves, having Appalachian State at No. 5 on this list is probably too high. Odds are a couple of teams in the Honorable Mention have a better chance because Appalachian State plays in the Sun Belt. Still, I wanted to include the Mountaineers over the Honorable Mentions because they are undefeated, and they do have a Power Five win on the road against North Carolina. They also have another road game later this season against South Carolina, and if the Mountaineers can remain undefeated, that's an impressive resume. Sun Belt or not.
4. SMU: I've been pumping up this SMU team for a few weeks now. After seeing the Mustangs open the season with impressive wins over Arkansas State and North Texas, I thought it was a team that could make some noise in the American this season. After watching it beat TCU 41-38 on Saturday, I'm convinced it will. That said, while I'm high on this SMU team, I can't put it higher than No. 4. It has a road game against South Florida this weekend, and that's not the last tough road game on the schedule. The Mustangs will play Houston, Memphis and Navy on the road in the final five weeks of the regular season.
3. Cincinnati: Why is a Cincinnati team that is only 2-1 ahead of a 4-0 SMU with a win over TCU? It's pretty simple. That 42-0 loss to Ohio State won't do the Bearcats many favors, but I also don't think it'll hurt that bad should the Bearcats go on to win the American. Plus, the Bearcats will be hosting UCF in Cincinnati next Friday night. A win over UCF would go a long way toward boosting the resume. The problem is that the Bearcats finish the regular season with a road game against the next team on our list.
2. Memphis: The Tigers beat Navy 35-23 on Thursday night to improve to 4-0 on the season. If you removed UCF from the equation, the odds are that Memphis would be your favorite to win the AAC thanks in large part to its defense. The Memphis defense has been its downfall recently, as it allowed roughly 32 points per game the last two seasons. This year, it's allowing half that through its first four games. Those four games include a win over an SEC school in Ole Miss, as well as Thursday's Navy win. Considering Houston's current situation, the two significant threats to Memphis in the West appear to be Tulane and SMU at the moment, and the Tigers get to host both this season. That puts them in a strong position to win the division and get to the AAC title game.
1. Boise State: The great philosopher Matthew McConaughey once said: "Sometimes you got to go back to actually move forward." What he meant by that is that if you want to find the next Group of Five Cinderella, sometimes you have to look for the old Group of Five Cinderella. And that's Boise State. While the AAC has been pushing the Power 6 narrative the last few years and has been the best Group of Five conference, the Mountain West has a bit of a leg up on it so far in 2019. Boise appears to be the cream of the MWC crop at the moment. It's already at No. 16 in the AP Top 25 poll, and it has a road win against Florida State. There are still a few challenging games remaining on the schedule (BYU, Wyoming and Utah State), but it's not out of the question to think this Broncos team can get through this slate with no more than a loss. If it goes 13-0 or 12-1 to win the Mountain West, it might get that NY6 spot whether UCF loses another game or not.