With everyone starved for sports content during the nation’s pandemic, the 2020 Preseason Amway Coaches Poll dropped on August 6th. The usual College Football suspects were at the top like Clemson, Ohio State and Alabama. Some names were missing from the Top 25 that we’ve seen in the recent past like Boise State.
But UCF fans certainly noticed that their Knights were ranked once again for the third consecutive year, taking the 21st spot.
I’m sure there are many who look at the preseason polls and proclaim they mean nothing on the field once the season kicks off…and those critics would be correct. There are annual occurrences of teams hyped up who fall below their initial ranking before Thanksgiving (looking at you, Texas and Georgia).
But there is so much these polls can tell us about the standing of a program in terms of reputation and fanfare which, like it or not, have an impact on how the College Football Playoff Committee and others rank the teams for those final listings in January.
Here are three things we’ve learned about UCF and the American Athletic Conference from the 2020 Preseason Coaches Poll:
The Co-National Championship Continues To Work Well For The Knights
I’ve stated it on the radio, on podcasts and in print. And now for the first time as a member of The Three Point Conversion, I say it again…it doesn’t matter how you feel about the “legitimacy” of UCF’s 2017 co-national championship.
If you are one who defends it because it was made official by the Colley Matrix that season, you have been clamoring that “haters are gonna hate.” For those who claim it a declaration and nothing more, you have been frustrated into having to debate those obnoxious “Central Florida” people on Twitter. All we know for a fact is that more people are talking about UCF as a program than ever before.
— UCF Knights 😷 (@UCFKnights) January 1, 2018
Ever since athletic director Danny White posted the now famous (or infamous?) tweet, the footprint of the University of Central Florida on the college football stage has continued to rise.
The latest evidence of this? UCF losing three games last year.
Now for many of you Knight fans reading this, I can hear the record scratch sound effect in your head. How can three losses demonstrate growth in prowess? I’m not trying to make any UCF follower relive the disappointment of the Tulsa game or drone on about how Pitt printed and sold out of T-shirts to commemorate a win over a Group of Five team as a Power Five program.
But to get ranked 21st in the Coaches Poll after losing three games last year should be celebrated. For context, that very same 2017 undefeated co-national championship team was also ranked afterward in the 2018 edition of the same poll…two spots lower at 23.
There’s no way the Knights see the Top 25 in the 2020 preseason without the fantastic public relations boost that White gave his organization that all started with that five-second Twitter video.
Acknowledgment The AAC Is Catching Up To The ACC
The American Athletic Conference has been working to get respect on the national stage beyond just the Knights’ quest for College Football Playoff consideration. While off the field its “Power 6” campaign tries to promote life outside of the traditional blue blood conferences to the college football public, the ACC may be proving more on the field. All you need do is look at the performance in the Atlantic Coast Conference in recent history, or the lack thereof.
In the 2017 and 2018 PreSeason Coaches Polls, the ACC had five and four teams in the Top 25, respectively. The AAC conversely had only one in both years. In 2019, there was only one from the AAC but Clemson stood as the ACC’s lone preseason representative. This season, the ACC was back up to three but the AAC now has two on that list.
While it didn’t necessarily transfer to the final outcome of the rankings for those seasons, it spoke to how much more respect they are beginning to garner within college football.
But it’s on-field results that could be a cause for this. Last season, the Atlantic only had one single 10-win program, the Clemson Tigers. The AAC had five schools with that mark. These performances may have led coaches to take notice which now means…
Expectations Are Higher For UCF And The AAC
This is both a good and a bad thing. A team doesn’t have high expectations from anyone unless it does something remarkable first. With Cincinnati and UCF both ranked in the preseason, that obviously means they are expected to post 10 wins again and one of them to win the conference championship.
While these teams are both in the East division, one will have to eliminate the other through conference play that features a head-to-head matchup.
However, the slightest perceived misstep, especially within a COVID 19 reduced season where most Power 5 schools are playing only or mostly within their conference, and all the momentum built in the past few years will collapse. However, should the cream of the American crop continue to rise to the top, that could put a lot of pressure on the ACC.
Notre Dame is scheduling itself as a temporary member of the Atlantic Conference. What would that say if it’s Clemson battling Notre Dame for that conference’s title? How bad a look would it be if the Fighting Irish come in and demonstrates precisely how inferior the competition is for the Tigers? It could provide more evidence that the Power 5 has a weak stepbrother that maybe isn’t so powerful.