In the days since the University of Central Florida (UCF) Knights capped their perfect 13-0 season beating Auburn in the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Day, 34-27, news and social media have been in complete chaos over the merits of the Knights undefeated campaign. While there are several stories surrounding UCF’s season, one argument can be put to rest right away. With the release of the final rankings of the Colley Matrix, the UCF Knights have a 100% legitimate claim to a National Championship by way of achieving the #1 ranking in said poll. The Colley Matrix is recognized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in its list of “National Champion Major Selections” as well as a contributor to the BCS rankings. This is a fact and whether you want to acknowledge it or not is irrelevant because the NCAA will and that is what counts.
Now that this actuality has been taken care of, I want to go ahead and refute some of the other arguments that have come up trying to disprove or undermine UCF’s dream season. I’ll start with my favorite:
“UCF would not be undefeated if they played in the SEC”
Eh, nobody is undefeated this year in the Southeastern Conference (SEC), but that didn’t stop two of their members from reaching the College Football Playoff (CFP). As a matter of fact, both Georgia and Alabama played in the CFP Final with one loss to a common opponent, Auburn. (May I remind you that UCF beat Auburn in the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Day?). So if UCF played in the SEC and failed to go undefeated, it would have been a non-issue in terms of their qualifications to make the CFP.
I want to expand a bit on the logic of this argument because it is baffling to me that people actually use this as a defense against the Knights merits (not Golden Knights, ESPN, I know you do this on purpose, but it just makes you look uninformed and petty). UCF is indeed not a current member of the SEC. For this argument to make any logical sense, UCF would have to be a current member of the SEC and that changes things a lot. The SEC belongs to a group of conferences called Power Five (P5) while the American Athletic Conference (AAC), UCF’s current conference, is a member of a different group called Group of Five (G5). There is a clear discrepancy between schools from the P5 conferences and the G5 conferences in terms of revenue, access to bowl games and the CFP, which creates a competitive advantage when it comes to retaining coaches and signing recruits.
The Knights just experienced the rollercoaster that was Scott Frost’s final weeks at UCF and his eventual departure for his Alma Mater, Nebraska. Sentimental reasons aside, it is hard to argue with the substantial pay raise Frost and his (our*) staff just got, plus the clear path to the CFP that the P5 schools provide that creates the single biggest competitive advantage in all of this: Scott Frost can now go to a recruit’s house, look him straight in the eye and say “come play for me at Nebraska and you CAN win a CFP National Championship”. He did not have the ability to do that at UCF. I am paraphrasing here but he pretty much said so Monday during his live interview on ESPN: You cannot get into the playoff as a member of the G5.
Josh Heupel, UCF’s new Head Coach, is going to face the same barriers to entry. This would not be an issue if UCF was a member of the SEC. As a member of the SEC, the Knights would have access to the same revenue, the same bowls, the same path to the playoffs that the rest of the P5 schools have. It means UCF, playing in the SEC, would have the money to retain coaches the quality of Frost (and this is in no way showing any disrespect to Coach Heupel at all, just stating that Frost is indeed a great coach). It means that the head coach at UCF, whoever it might be, could finally go to a recruit’s house, look him straight in the eye and say “come play for me at UCF and you CAN win a CFP National Championship”. Which means that this UCF team would be even better than it is today with a roster full of even higher quality athletes and coaches. Again, that is IF they had the same advantages that the SEC has as a member of the P5. Scary thought, right?
“UCF needs to play a tougher schedule”
It is hard to try to win an argument about the strength of your conference when there is a system in place designed to marginalize and diminish the efforts of the teams in said conference (13-0 record and not make the playoffs anyone?). With that being said, I will try my best to shine a light on the myths of Strength of Schedule (SoS) using everyone’s favorite punching bag: Alabama. Have to be honest here, as much as we all love to throw jabs and loathe on the Tide, you have to admit they are an amazing football program that gets a lot of hate for actually being good (sorry, I just threw up in my mouth a little). Let me begin by comparing the Out of Conference (OoC) opponents for both the Knights and the Tide:
UCF: FIU, Maryland, Austin Peay, Georgia Tech (canceled), Maine (canceled)
Alabama: FSU, Colorado State, Fresno State, Mercer
FSU and Maryland are similar in the sense that they were both very promising teams that did not live up to expectations. Both teams lost their starting QBs early in the year and, while the Noles were able to salvage the season and make a bowl game amidst the turmoil of “Jimbo-gate”, Maryland succumbed to a brutal second half of a schedule that included games against conference heavyweights Wisconsin, Michigan State & Penn State. And, yes, FSU was the #3 pre-season ranked team (“pre” being the key word here) when they played Alabama but, when we look at the totality of the schedule, the win does not seem that impressive.
Next up for the Tide we have a pair of Mountain West (MWC) teams in Colorado State (CSU) and Fresno State. Both are good programs, though I would refer to Fresno State as excellent team. But if I asked the average Alabama or SEC fan to find Fresno State University on the map, they would have a hard time locating it (hint: it is in Fresno). The counterpart on UCF’s schedule would be Florida International (FIU). A decent team also out of Conference USA that posted an 8-5 record under new head coach Butch Davis, but to the college football “elitists” also nothing to bat an eye at. Then there is the gap in the Knights schedule of Georgia Tech (GT). The game versus the Yellow Jackets was postponed and then eventually cancelled due to the events stemming from Hurricane Irma.
There are many that argue that UCF could have, and perhaps should have somehow rescheduled the game against GT but I disagree. Sports are important, football is king, but there are moments in life when all of that has to take a back seat and you need to perhaps re-examine your priorities. Helping your city, that is more important than football. You cannot claim the moniker of “Orlando’s Home Team”, as UCF has adopted on their new public relations campaign, and then turn your back on that same city when it needs your resources, your facilities, and your time. It was the right thing to do. Besides, the Yellow Jackets finished with a 5-6 record so adding another losing team to the schedule would not have done the Knights any favors in the eyes of the “committee”.
Finally we get to both schools’ FCS opponents, Mercer and Austin Peay. When UCF had to cancel their game against Maine in order to accommodate conference foe Memphis due to Hurricane Irma, they were left scrambling to fill a hole in the schedule towards the end of October in lieu of the bye week. Enter Austin Peay, a team that came into Spectrum Stadium last second with an upset mentality and gave the Knights a good fight, despite what the final score of 73-33 might tell you. The Governors finished this season in FCS with a record of 8-4, second in the Ohio Valley Conference. They missed making the FCS playoffs due to “technicalities” on their schedule. Mercer finished with a 5-6 record.
One small but very important detail I need to mention about OoC schedules, most of these are agreed upon years in advance. So what could have looked like a solid OoC slate 4-5 years ago when it was agreed upon, could end up looking subpar or terrible come game time due to caching changes, sanctions or a multitude of other factors. So putting together a “strong” OoC schedule is not an exact science.
Now, when it comes to conference opponents, I know I am about to talk about ‘Bama. So if you have your SEC goggles on, I cannot do anything for you. Unfortunately, I cannot ask you to take them off either. If you are an SEC supporter, you have your torch and pitchfork ready, foaming at the mouth, waiting for my dissertation of Alabama’s almost perfect conference run this season, aiming at my virtual jugular with your thumbs ready to give me a piece of your mind — I know what I am up against. It is impossible for me to convince you that, as usual, Vanderbilt was pure garbage, that Tennessee and Arkansas were atrocious, that the fact that four of Ole Miss’ six wins were unimpressive toppling Southern Alabama, UT-Martin, UL-Lafayette and Vanderbilt. Or that half of Mississippi State’s victories were over subpar opponents like Arkansas, UMass, Charleston Southern and Louisiana Tech. I could give you one fact though which is undeniable; that the best team Alabama faced all season, Auburn (you know, the same Auburn that UCF beat in the Peach Bowl), beat them solidly. But you are not going to listen to me. I could, instead, try and talk to you about the Knights schedule. About the fact that the Knights had five conference wins over opponents with a winning record (Alabama has four) and that those same crop of teams went 3-2 on their bowl games (Alabama’s opponents went 1-2). That, just like Alabama, UCF had two victories over ranked opponents in conference. But I am sure at this point, all you are thinking is “yeah, well none of those teams are in the SEC”. You are absolutely correct, they are not, which brings me to my final point:
“UCF needs to get into a better conference”
Division I FBS football is the only sport for which the NCAA does not sanction a yearly championship event. Since the NCAA allowed the P5 conferences in 2014, the autonomy to decide cost of attendance stipends, recruiting rules, etc, and since the implementation of the CFP (it is not a playoff, it is an invitational, but we can discuss that another day), the league has completely changed. Yes, I agree that UCF needs to get into a better conference, but do you really think it is just a matter of picking up the phone or sending an email? Most recently, the Big 12 flirted with pretty much every single G5 member as a potential expansion partner, just to leave them all waiting at the altar when the NCAA allowed them to host a conference championship game with only 10 conference members (12 was a minimum requirement, thanks a lot NCAA).
The SEC currently sits at 14 members, so does the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and it looks unlikely that they will expand any more. The Big 10 (B1G) and Pac-12 do not make any geographical or logistical sense, which leaves UCF without any realistic options. And it could not happen at a worse time. The Knights are the coolest kid in class, the shinny new toy, but they cannot find a date, or somebody to play with.
Of course, as with all things in life, the only constant is change. What is now may or may not be in a few years. Rumors of 16 team mega conferences have been swirling for years as well as the expansion of the playoff, even if the committee does not believe it is needed. So the Knights might not have any other choice than to keep winning and watch everything unfold. And, believe me, it will change, it is just a matter of when and how.
In the meantime, quit criticizing UCF’s now 100% legit claim to a National Championship, their schedule, their conference. Instead, give credit to a football program that completely transformed itself in two years and has all the pieces in place to maintain this level of success for years to come. You do not have to take my word for it though, Knight Nation will be out there on social media every single day reminding you.
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