The UCF Critics are Missing the Point

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.

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The Perfect Season for an Expanded Playoff Field

Last November, I made the case for the College Football Playoff needing to expand the field to eight teams. This season is panning out to be one that could benefit from it more than ever. I’d like to think after the conclusion of conference championship games on the first Saturday of December, it may be a lot easier for the committee to come up with a consensus Top 4 then it was for the committee to release their first rankings Tuesday night.

There are a handful of championship-caliber teams that will likely be on the outside looking in thanks to this being a season in which the Big 10 and SEC both boasting multiple teams worthy of a spot. Don’t forget about the notable independent, Notre Dame who will be in the mix all the way to the end.

The initial Top 4 included Georgia, Alabama, Notre Dame and Clemson. This Top 4 significantly contrasted with the latest Associated Press Poll, which would have produced a bracket of Alabama and Georgia of the SEC and Wisconsin and Ohio State of the Big 10. Now we can assume that these schools likely squaring off in their conference’s respective championship games that the rankings will sort itself out. But is that really what is best for college football, assuming those conference runner-ups find themselves on the outside looking in? I’d say no.

Conference Imbalance?

It can be argued that this is a down year for the other three Power 5 Conferences. While Clemson landed at #4 in the initial rankings, the ACC is not a lock to have a representative.

The Big 12 has the 5th, 8th and 11th ranked teams in Oklahoma, TCU and Oklahoma State, respectively. While the Big 12 added a conference championship game that has the potential to improve the resume of its champion, the risk of an upset by a two-loss team could lead to the conference failing to field a team in the bracket for the third time in four years.

The Pac 12 is the most in-flux, with the highest ranked team being the Washington Huskies sitting at #12. For the Pac 12 to send a team to the Playoff, Washington is their best chance and they would need the Huskies to win out and for a lot of teams ahead of them to lose. Even if that happens, is that a good scenario for college football: a team that is outside the Top 10 leaping 9-10 spots thanks to the slip-ups of better teams? Again, I’d say no.

The question of these three conferences has to be asked – Are these teams being penalized for facing tougher competition at the top of their conference than the undefeated teams in the SEC and Big 10. Through Week 9, both Alabama and Wisconsin have not played a single ranked opponent. On the other hand, one-loss teams such as Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Penn State, TCU, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and even Memphis all have wins over ranked opponents.

What’s the point? Most, if not all, of the teams I just mentioned, should still be in the running to compete for the National Championship. Theoretically, just about all of those teams still have a chance. However, most need teams ahead of them in the rankings to lose in order to reach the Top 4. In a world with a Top 8, all of those teams would be able to control their own destiny to secure a spot in the Playoff.

Untested Unbeatens 

Then you have the undefeated teams that arguably have not been tested to the degree in which the previously mentioned teams have been to this point in the season. While Wisconsin, Miami, and UCF have simply taken care of business by beating everyone on their respective schedules, they don’t have quite the resume to be considered Top 4 teams. Should that preclude them from at least getting a shot against the best in the country to compete for a National Championship? Absolutely not.

I’m not naive enough to suggest they would beat or even are at the same level as the undefeated teams at the top. But I don’t think they should miss out on the opportunity to play them just because their schedule wasn’t strong enough. Fortunately for Miami and Wisconsin, both will have the opportunity down the stretch to strengthen their resume. Miami has games scheduled against Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and potentially a highly-ranked opponent in the ACC Championship Game while Wisconsin will likely have an opportunity against a top-ranked opponent in the Big 10 Championship Game.

UCF will not have that same chance, especially after USF fell out of the Top 25 following their first loss of the season to Houston. At the same time, it would be fun to at least give the top Group of 5 team a shot, and in this case UCF a chance to see if they belong with the big boys.

The bottom line is that there are several, high-caliber teams that may technically still be in the mix to make the College Football Playoff, but realistically will not be able to get into that position solely based on their own merits the rest of the season. This is why this season would have been the ideal year to have an expanded playoff field.

Top 8

My proposal that I lined out last November would award would the eight spots as follows: five Power 5 Champs, two at-large and the highest-ranked Group of 5 team. If we followed this formula, following the initial CFP Rankings, we would currently have seedings and first-round matchups that looked like this:

  1. Georgia (SEC)
  2. Alabama (At-Large 1)
  3. Notre Dame (At-Large 2)
  4. Clemson (ACC) 
  5. Oklahoma (Big 12)
  6. Ohio State (Big 10)
  7. Washington (Pac 12)
  8. UCF (Group of 5)

In the Hunt: Penn State, TCU, Wisconsin, Miami

First Round

Georgia vs. UCF, Alabama vs. Washington, Notre Dame vs. Ohio State, and Clemson vs. Oklahoma.

What college football fan wouldn’t want to watch that? The move to eight teams is on the horizon, and hopefully, this season pushes the needle closer to it happening. The best part of this system may be that subjectively will be limited and earning a spot in “the dance” will have a much clearer path.


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College Football Playoff Needs to Expand Sooner than Later

For the sake of eliminating subjectivity, the College Football Playoff needs to expand. Since the beginning of College Football, final season results are dependent on opinions and computer models. Are these rankings based on merit? Absolutely. That doesn’t change the fact that each season there is a certain level of debate and controversy regarding the teams who get a chance to win a national championship, or in recent years participate in the four-team playoff.

during the College Football Playoff National Championship Game at AT&T Stadium on January 12, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.

Introducing a four-team playoff was a great first step in consistently ensuring a championship game of the two best teams in the country. In 2014, the first year of the College Football Playoff, the #4 Seed Ohio State defeated #1 Alabama to face #2 Oregon who defeated #3 Florida State. It was reported that under the former BCS system, the National Championship game would have pitted Alabama against Florida State. As much as college football fans would have loved to watch a battle of the Crimson Tide against the Jameis Winston-led Seminoles, we got the championship game determined by merit.

The unfolding of these events in the inaugural College Football Playoff validated the decision to introduce this system. In 2015, the #1 and #2 seeds (Alabama and Clemson) won their respective semifinal games. The results of the semifinal games left virtually zero debate over who were the nation’s top two teams that should be going head to head in the National Championship Game. One could argue the semifinal games were not necessary because the teams considered to be the better teams won, and in convincing fashion. However, the results eradicated any belief that Michigan State or Oklahoma, the #3 and #4 teams should be in the title game.

Every few years there is some degree of controversy over the team getting left out, who played a tougher schedule, what conference is more competitive and which victories were the most impressive. Sure, it gives fans, writers, analysts and prognosticators something to talk about throughout the season. But it still means that subjective opinions are determining the fate of a few programs each season.

ohio-state-college-football-playoff-1Under the current system of five “Power 5” conferences and four playoff spots, it is a guarantee that one of these conference champions will not have a spot in the playoff. In 2014, the Big 12 was left out in the cold as Baylor and TCU finished 5th and 6th respectively with 11-1 records. The popular explanation is that the Big 12 hurts itself by being the only P5 conference not to play a conference championship game. As valid as that may be, both schools were punished despite stellar seasons and neither had the opportunity to participate in the playoff.

There is not much use in reopening a debate from two years ago about who did and did not deserve to be in the Playoff. But, those events along with how this season is unfolding gives credence to the idea that the College Football Playoff needs to expand to eight teams and also follow a more objective process.

To start, every Power 5 Champion should have a seat at the table. No questions asked. That condition immediately requires for the playoff field to expand. Secondly, there are a always a few fringe teams that do not win their conference. This season is a perfect example. Look at the Big 10 East Division. Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State are all playoff-worthy teams, especially if there are eight total spots. Staying in the Big 10, but looking in the West Division at Wisconsin and where they currently sit, would certainly be part of the conversation as well.

Now let’s consider the Group of 5, or more bluntly the “lesser half” of college football. We all know that the Group of 5 encompasses the programs with less history, resources and talent than those schools in the Power 5. Naturally, a Group of 5 team qualifying for the current College Football Playoff is nearly impossible. Houston could have made it with impressive wins against Oklahoma and Louisville, but there chances were squandered by three conference losses.

19118758-mmmainConsider Western Michigan, who will head into the MAC Championship Game with a perfect 12-0 record. Due to their underwhelming schedule, they will not sniff the Top 4. Even if the playoff expanded to a Top 8 and simply granted access to teams ranked 1-8, Western Michigan would still be on the outside looking in when the Playoff Committee releases its final rankings in December. One argument could be that Western Michigan shouldn’t deserve a spot, especially if they are not considered one of the eight best teams in the country by the committee. However, the other side could contend with “What did Western Michigan do wrong, aside from not playing a competitive enough of a schedule?”

While universities have some control over their out-of-conference schedule, when looking at an individual season, that specific team and group of players should not be punished for their school not being able to schedule more competitive opponents. A team should not be punished when they do everything they can, defeating every team on their schedule.

When Group of 5 teams have virtually perfect seasons, we never find out exactly how good those teams are. Do we get to see them against a great Power 5 team in a major bowl game? Yes. Sometimes they prevail, sometimes they flounder. But now that college football has graduated to a playoff system, teams like Western Michigan are still left out of the dance without ever finding out how that team stacks up against the other playoff participants. This needs to change.

The best Group of 5 team needs to be guaranteed a spot in the College Football Playoff. It would eliminate the mystery and ultimately give hope to each and every team at the beginning of the season, much like college basketball when every team theoretically has a shot. At the very least, even if we saw Western Michigan get blown out by Alabama, there would be a resolution to the season and a clear understanding of how the top G5 team stacked up against the best team in the country.

chi-college-football-playoff-selection-committ-001To recap, the proposed structure would call for an eight-team playoff granting spots to the following:

(5) Power 5 Conference Champions

(2) At-Large Teams, or the two highest ranked teams not to win their conference

(1) The highest ranked Group of 5 team

This creates an eight-team bracket where the rankings would still have a purpose for seeding the teams. Let’s take a look at how it would look this season and assume the presumed favorites win next weekend. The field would look something like this:

#1 Alabama (SEC Champ)

#2 Ohio State (At-Large)

#3 Clemson (ACC Champ)

#4 Washington (Pac 12 Champ)

#5 Michigan (At-Large)

#6 Wisconsin (Big 10 Champ)

#7 Oklahoma (Big 12 Champ)

#8 Western Michigan (Top ranked Group of 5 Team)

A bracket would then be created in a #1 vs #8, #2 vs #7, #3 vs #6 and #4 vs #5 structure. In order to keep the major bowls with their sponsors in tact, the extra games created by expanding the playoff from four to eight would occupy the appropriate bowl games and locations on a rotating basis.

An eight-team playoff bracket would mean seven games. The current “New Year’s Six” would occupy the first two rounds, with the National Championship Game being played at the end with the two teams left standing.

Taking these steps would drastically improve the College Football Playoff and the sport as a whole. Expanding to eight teams is the next, necessary move. Ideally, we will have a sixteen-team playoff someday soon. But eight needs to happen first. If we ever get to sixteen, the tremendous College Basketball model needs to be replicated.

An ideal sixteen-team playoff would include all ten conference champions and six at-large schools. This would truly give every single team hope. A system like this would do wonders for the sport, especially with the chance to narrow the gap between the Group of 5 and the Power 5. But, one step at a time. Hopefully we get to talk about who makes the “Elite 8” in the near future.

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