There has been a lot of debate surrounding UCF’s claim of a National Championship, following their defeat of Auburn in Monday’s Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. One side is claiming it to be ridiculous, looking at their proclamation as illogical by mocking their bold statement. This group is primarily made up of SEC elitists that have discredited UCF’s 13-0 season by citing their weak schedule and diminishing their win over Auburn by questioning the Tigers’ motivation in the game following an SEC Championship Game loss that knocked them out of the Playoff.
In the other corner, there is the group that has mostly defended UCF all season, claiming they should have had a fair shot at the National Championship, despite the schedule that was perceived as very weak in the eyes of the College Football Playoff Committee. This is a committee that ranked teams with two and three losses ahead of UCF with the argument that those teams played a much tougher schedule.
UCF’s victory over Auburn served as vindication that they did, in fact, deserve to be in the National Championship conversation. This belief was backed up by the fact that Auburn defeated both teams in Monday’s Championship Game earlier in the season. If we applied the transitive property, the logic is very sound.
But despite the arguments, nothing will magically insert UCF into Monday’s game, nor pit them against the winner the following week. So, UCF Athletic Director, Danny White took matters into his own hands by proclaiming UCF as National Champions. He has gone as far to commit to putting up a banner in Spectrum Stadium and honoring the bonuses built into the contract of the coaching staff for winning a National Championship.
But if you think these actions are only about an unofficial proclamation of a championship that the biggest critics think is delusional, you might be missing the point. That is just the tip of the iceberg. This action by UCF has forced the football program into the national sports conversation this whole week. This is completely foreign territory for the Knights. Sure, they had their fifteen minutes of fame following a Fiesta Bowl win over Baylor four years ago. But while that 2013 season helped put the UCF Knights on the map, they essentially became lost and forgotten from the national perspective of the college football landscape the following season.
The program calling itself National Champs is an attempt to prevent that from happening again. It’s a message to the rest of college football that UCF is a nationally relevant program and is here to stay. So far, it is working. This week, several prominent current and former college football coaches and analysts have weighed in on UCF’s accomplishments and the merits behind the idea of them being National Champions.
Just yesterday, former long-time FSU Head Coach Bobby Bowden voiced his support for UCF calling themselves National Champions.
“I’ll be honest with you, they deserve [the national title], in my opinion,” the retired coach said in an interview with The World-Herald.
“But they won’t win it because they’re not in the Power Five, you know? But you take Auburn in November, probably the hottest team in the country, Auburn beat No. 1 and No. 2, then Central Florida beats them. And so I think they got a right to claim it. But the NCAA won’t recognize it.”
The full story on Knight News can be found here.
His detailed quote leads right to the other issue at play and more importantly the next component of UCF’s motivation behind their championship claim. It is an indirect protest of the current system that makes it virtually impossible for a Group of 5 team to earn a spot in the College Football Playoff. If the 12-0 UCF Knights can only rise to as high as #12 in the rankings, how can any other Group of 5 program have any hope in future years?
The only exception may be if one of those programs is lucky enough to secure an out-of-conference schedule that includes Alabama, Clemson, and Oklahoma. The problem? Those schools and others at that level will never schedule games against those top Group of 5 programs. Why? Because they have nothing to gain and everything to lose by doing so. There isn’t any incentive.
The current system we have in place is a corrupt and biased one. We have a committee that has shown the evidence of making a conscious effort to block Group of 5 from ever sniffing the playoff. UCF is exposing that problem and for now, they are getting exactly what they want – a national conversation about it.
I have written previously about the need to expand the playoff, and this has been a season to support it. But this time it has been for different reasons. Every year an argument can be made for the teams just outside the playoff field to get a spot. That will always be an issue regardless of how big the playoff field gets. Just look at the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, which has a field of 68 teams. There is always an argument put up for the 69th and 70th team.
But what the basketball tournament has is a way for teams of the Mid-Major conferences (the basketball equivalent of the Group of 5) to earn a spot. For them it’s simple. Win your conference and you’re automatically in the tournament. There isn’t a biased and elitist committee that can exercise their power to block those teams from proving their worth in a real game because they weren’t impressed with their regular season schedule. It all gets settled on the floor, as it should be settled on the football field.
Thanks to UCF, this is something that is now getting further examined and their proclamation of a National Championship is only the first domino to fall. It may be naive to suggest anything significant will change next season. But whether the playoff field expands and guarantees a spot or more to Group of 5 teams, or the selection criteria changes, I can safely say this was the first significant step for college football to become a more fair and even-level playing field. It may not fix the revenue gap between the Power 5 and Group of 5, but I feel good about the potential for a more fair playoff system becoming a reality sooner than later.