Save Alabama and Georgia the road trip, there’s already a national champion.
So says Central Florida, which has claimed the title for itself after capping the only unbeaten season in major college football with a Peach Bowl victory over Auburn. While the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs are preparing for Monday night’s College Football Playoff title game, the Knights are celebrating like the champs they are.
There’s a parade in their honor at Disneyland on Sunday, a banner to hang in their stadium and $325,000 in bonuses to be divvied up between the assistant coaches and staff.
“Of course we are! That’s what National Champions programs do,” UCF athletic director Danny White said on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon.
Now, there are some who think all this is ridiculous. That White is turning his up-and-coming program into a joke.
The only joke is a Playoff system not big enough to accommodate a non-Power Five team that has the makings of a giant killer. In the absence of that, White is doing right by his program — and bringing a little levity to college football in the process.
“College football is the only sport in America, professional or college and really only FBS, where there are teams that really have zero chance of winning it all,” White told USA TODAY Sports on Thursday morning. “That became clear to us as we went through the season and, time and time again, were ranked way lower than you’d assume for team that had gone (undefeated).
“That was a very frustrating thing for our players,” White added. “I know our kids feel like we deserve the chance to compete for a national championship. I know they feel we are national champions for doing what we did.”
College football “purists” have laughed at UCF’s claim and its celebrations, pointing out that the Playoff was created so we wouldn’t have arguments like these. But the same was said about the Bowl Championship Series once upon a time.
Ask Utah and Boise State how that worked out.
“The system is not where it needs to be,” White said. “We’ve taken a step in the right direction … but I think it needs to grow to at least eight. And I think we’re way too subjective in how we rank teams.”
Did UCF deserve one of the four spots in the playoff? On paper, probably not, not when Memphis was the only other American Athletic Conference team to crack the top 25.
But given that UCF did the near impossible in going undefeated and then knocked off Auburn, the only team to beat Alabama and Georgia, it’s clear the Knights should have been part of the debate. At the very least, an unbeaten team that wallops opponents by an average of 24 points should have been higher than No. 12 in the final Playoff rankings.
Until the Playoff is expanded so there’s really room for deserving Group of Five teams, the little guys will have to continue to scratch and claw for both respect and relevancy. And if that means tweaking the establishment in the process, so be it.
What White and UCF are doing is no different than, say, Florida Atlantic coach Lane Kiffin’s Tweets exhorting people to “come to the FAU.” They’re making sure their programs stay in the public eye — three days after the Peach Bowl, we’re still talking about UCF — and packaging them as a fun, fresh way to have success.
I’d imagine 17- and 18-year-olds mulling over recruiting offers would find that appealing.
“If I was a recruit across the county, but particularly in the state of Florida, why wouldn’t you want to come be a part of UCF?” White asked.
That said, White is sincere about wanting his players recognized. Just as Auburn was in 1993, when it gave its players rings after they went undefeated but were barred from the SEC championship and bowl game because of NCAA violations.
Or Notre Dame, Alabama and all those other schools are when they cherry pick organizations that award national titles. (Houlgate system? Dunkel? Really?)
What the Knights accomplished this season was incredible. It should be celebrated. For those outraged by that, lighten up. Your anger is misdirected.
By Nancy Armour
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.