Programme vs Team; what signing day told us about UCF

“We’re building a great programme here at UCF”

It’s a paraphrase, but it was the intention. Josh Huepel believes that what UCF has going right now shows they’ve built a great programme in Orlando, one that will continue on the upswing. Except, they’re not a great programme. UCF quite honestly, hasn’t even got a good programme.

Pic: UCF Athletics

That may seem like a harsh criticism, especially for a team has turned around its fortunes in so dramatic a fashion. In 2015, UCF were 0-12. In three seasons, they may have gone on to have an unbeaten season, but don’t believe the hype, this isn’t what a great programme looks like.

In fact UCF may well build its own ceiling by being stubborn. The talented high school players may already have their opinion on UCF, one made clear by their actions on National Signing Day. Where did UCF finish when all was said and done?

57th.

They had 0 five stars commit, 0 four stars commit, and 22 commits overall. To give you some perspective, Alabama took 23 four-star recruits.

Here’s the issue though for many fans; that is understanding the difference between a programme and a team. Let’s try to look at this from a British perspective to make it a little easier to understand.

Pic: londonwrriorsafc.co.uk

The London Warriors have the best team in the country right now. That is, on the odds of it, if you put the 2018 championship side on the field against any team in the country, they are the favourites. As a programme, they last went 0.500 in 2010 and in the last 8 years have lost 4 games, combined in the regular season.

Clearly a winning programme that has found a formula to win games. The Aberdeen Roughnecks were 8-0 last year in the regular season and gained promotion. There is no doubt that you could argue they were a good team, but they had shortfalls. They played against Division 2 opposition, they never faced the Warriors, in fact they never faced the Division 1 winners.  

This example, is UCF and Alabama. The difference in football standard is what gives a team the right to call itself a great programme. To say you have a great programme, you have to win, at the highest level, consistently.

This reflects in the signing day numbers. With early commitment, early starts, with teams looking ever younger for that talent that is ready to go in at freshman level, the best will always gravitate to programmes that provide 2 things.

  1. Great coaching. Great coaching underpins all other aspects. Nick Saban may have lost to the transcendent talent that is Trevor Lawrence, but without Trevor Lawrence we may well have been talking about the greatest College team of all time. But 4 years of National Finals suggests someone at Alabama knows what they’re doing, and it’s this great coaching that creates wins, that feeds the cycle of success, that boosts this great programme.
  2. A Path to the Pros. It’s no coincidence that with a side so use to a winning mentality, that their players are prepared for life after college. Alabama has the most players currently on active NFL rosters with 44 players. By numbers alone every team in the NFL contains an Alabama Alum, some even more. UCF has 15.

It’s very easy for fans to get swept up in a spur of the moment type deal, but you have to understand the flipside. UCF may well be a brief blip, despite their fans true desire to be a top-class program.

The AAC just isn’t the competitive division that the SEC is for example. It’s true that the static nature of college football divisional rankings won’t stand them in any good stead for now, but the reality is that UCF doesn’t receive the same respect from schools in bigger divisions. By not being a regular Group of 5 team, they found quickly that many bigger teams didn’t even respect them in the slightest.

Pic: Saturday Down South

Case and point, when UCF was snubbed earlier this year for the Peach Bowl, where Michigan was parachuted in to face a Gators team, criticism was quickly rounded on Florida Athletic Director Scott Stricklin that he had forced the committee selection to avoid a potentially embarrassing defeat to UCF.

Florida’s response to being called out by UCF? ‘Yeah we’d take them in a 2-1 in the right circumstances.’ When pressured, Stricklin even went on record to say, ‘We haven’t done any home-and-homes with non-Power 5 teams. I don’t think we would start that.’

UCF needs to understand something, before it destroys its chances of making a serious playoff run. Good programmes don’t play good teams. Good programmes play each other. UCF may need to humble itself, or it risks never joining the other great programmes.

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