By: Daniel Thompson and Lucas Vargas
The CFP has failed. The next step in the evolution of an end all be all system to determining a college football champion took just four seasons to fall short of its promise. We have a shared national championship in 2017. Shared national titles are more or less an inevitability in college football. The BCS failed in 2003 when the AP and Coaches Polls picked USC and LSU as their respective national champions. The CFP is the best hope at producing an undisputed champ, but the committee got in the way of that vision this year. FBS football is the only subdivision of an NCAA sport without an NCAA sanctioned championship. This opens the door for just about anyone or anything to claim or declare a champion, even Richard Nixon once awarded Texas a championship. In 2017, UCF should have gotten the opportunity they deserved from the CFP, should be recognized as the national champs by organizations that keep track of national championships, and has already claimed this year’s title.
College football should be about winning. Every week should be a playoff week. The most widely agreed upon criterion for selecting the four playoff teams has become selecting the four best teams. In principle, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. But there’s a huge issue with this criterion. What if we’re wrong? In 2016, Ohio State was deemed by the committee to be better than the Big 10’s conference champion Penn State Nittany Lions. They turned out to be embarrassingly wrong about that. In 2015, the committee picked Michigan State, even though just about everyone thought Ohio State was better than Michigan State. So clearly there isn’t even consistency on whether or not the primary criterion is selecting the best team. But as seen with Clemson’s 31-0 rout of Ohio State, despite the Buckeyes being a 3 point favorite, we don’t really know who is the best. No one agrees on what makes a team the best. Is it record? Is it advanced stats? There’s plenty of ways to answer this. But there’s no consistent way and, “the eye test” is just a pass for the committee to get away with whatever ranking they put out there.
And in 2017, boy were we wrong about UCF. UCF was a 15 point underdog vs. Auburn and they led nearly the whole game. In hindsight, it’s a tragedy that undefeated conference champs UCF weren’t deemed to be better than Alabama, given that UCF actually beat Auburn. SEC fans might be quick to say that Auburn wasn’t giving it their all in the Peach Bowl. Meanwhile, UCF’s Scott Frost was busy working his full time job as Nebraska’s new head coach while preparing for the game, and being too busy to make any excuses in the possibility his team got outplayed. The fact that Auburn beat Alabama by two scores should beg the question, “Could Alabama beat UCF?” There is no other way to put it, UCF got robbed of a chance to play in the CFP. But even if UCF had been blown out by Auburn, they still deserved the final playoff spot in place of Alabama, Ohio State, or USC. Making the playoff should have as little to do with the committee as possible. Football isn’t about impressing 12 people, with varying experience in football, in a room in Texas every week; it’s about winning. There were four teams in the country this year that didn’t do anything to disqualify themselves from the playoff, and UCF was one of them. College football shouldn’t be about the committee, it should be about winning. It was the committee’s responsibility to get out of UCF’s way and give them a chance. Unlike Alabama, they earned it.
Whether or not UCF’s championship season is remembered as one depends on trusted sources declaring them champs. One well trusted source with a potential audience of millions already has done so. UCF football’s Twitter account changed their username to, “2017 National Champions” following their victory in the Peach Bowl. This will be seen by far more people than any banner in their stadium ever will (UCF has also announced they will be hanging a banner). Twitter is such a large and important platform in today’s day and age, it’s hard to argue UCF hasn’t already claimed the title. This isn’t just a viral marketing campaign either. UCF put its money where its mouth is and paid national championship bonuses to all of its coaches. If the AP or Coaches Poll voters were to go rogue and vote UCF number one, it would ensure UCF’s 2017 team will be immortalized as champions. Even if that doesn’t happen, the bar is set pretty low for claiming a national championship. The number on Alabama helmets for College GameDay is presently 16, for the 16 national titles Alabama claims. But anyone beside Alabama fans will tell you this number should be lower. The most ridiculous claimed title by the Crimson Tide is the 1941 national championship. That season the Tide went 9-2, Minnesota went 8-0, finished 20th in the AP Poll, but first in a mathematical ranking system. So if Alabama can get away with it, I say UCF can too. Congrats, Knights.
In a system that promises every Division 1 FBS school an opportunity to compete for one of the 4 coveted spots in the College Football Playoff, the season to uphold this promise was the present. An Ohio State team that suffered their second defeat on a 31 point loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes surely didn’t deserve a spot. A 2 loss USC team with a 35 point loss to Notre Dame didn’t help their post bowl-season argument of deserving the 4 seed by proceeding to put in a lackluster performance against Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl. So that left the Alabama Crimson Tide and the UCF Knights.
The Alabama vs. UCF debate came down to “strength of schedule.” The clashing argument that every game matters meets the idea that a couple of games may not matter depending on which conference you play in. So let's examine each team’s regular season schedule:
- Florida State, the preseason #3 team, beat Southern Miss in the Walk-On Independence Bowl and needed to beat Delaware State and Louisiana Monroe to get to 6 wins and clinch bowl eligibility.
- Vanderbilt, Tennessee, and Arkansas went a combined 2-22 in SEC play
- Texas A&M, Arkansas, and Tennessee all fired their head coaches
- Auburn won the SEC West
- Mississippi State, Auburn, and LSU were ranked in the AP poll released before Bowl Season
- Bowl Record of Opponents: 3-4
- Mississippi State beat Louisville 31-27 in the Taxslayer Bowl, only team to beat a Power 5 opponent in a bowl on Alabama’s schedule
- Auburn went on to lose to UCF in the Peach Bowl
- Beat a Big 10 Maryland team on the road 3 weeks after the Terrapins had beaten the Texas Longhorns in Austin, Texas
- Gave Memphis their only 2 regular season losses, The Tigers lost to Iowa State in the Autozone Liberty Bowl
- Games against Georgia Tech and Maine were cancelled due to a hurricane
- 11 straight weeks without a bye
- Undefeated Conference Champs
- Memphis and South Florida were ranked in the AP poll released before bowl season
- Opponent Bowl Record: 3-3
- Navy beat Virginia 49-7 in the Military Bowl
- Navy had the longest home winning streak at 17 games going into the UCF game
- South Florida beat Texas Tech 38-34 in the Birmingham Bowl
When comparing the 2 teams and their schedules, Alabama’s schedule is “stronger” because it carries name recognition from the SEC conference. Alabama lost to the best team they played, Auburn, following a game against the Mercer Bears. UCF’s schedule is criticized but Alabama has no excuse to be scheduling Mercer in one of the last weeks of the season. The Crimson Tide had essentially an off week before their most important game, while The Knights played 11 straight weeks after overcoming a hurricane. Both schedule’s had an equal number of bowl winners, with UCF’s schedule arguably having opponents with stronger bowl wins as well. While the comparison of these resumes does factor in some of the outcomes from bowl season that would not have been examined by the committee, it shows that UCF had a schedule that was severely underrated. The committee handed UCF #12 in their final rankings, disregarding their claims that every game is important and that conference championships are valued. UCF is not Western Michigan, the American is the closest conference to the Power 5 and its coaches are constantly poached by hungry Power 5 schools because the capabilities of the conference are recognized. UCF beat Auburn 34-27 to become Peach Bowl Champions. UCF beat an Auburn team that defeated both Alabama and Georgia during the season. Along with Houston’s win over Florida State in the 2015 Peach Bowl, UCF has proven that the American Conference can compete. Forget the 8 team playoff that college football so desperately needs, UCF made a case for the #4 Seed. And all season long, The UCF Knights made their case for the 2017 National Championship.