Since athletic director Danny White announced intentions to raise a championship banner, hold a parade and pay bonuses in recognition of a national championship, UCF has been the talk of the college football world.
The attention paid to UCF football has in and of itself made this championship claim a success, even if the current uproar results in no tangible changes to the current postseason system. Your Humble Author offers The Open Man’s voice to the conversation in defense of the White Knight:
- The College Football Playoff committee implicitly goaded UCF with its ranking of the Knights throughout the weekly Top 25 process, elevating three-loss Mississippi State above them at one point and never tabbing them any higher than No. 12.
- UCF was taken to task for its schedule, currently ranked No. 72 by Sagarin. At No. 47, College Football Playoff championship participant Alabama is closer to the Knights in SOS than it is title game opponent Georgia (18).
- UCF beat Auburn, which beat both Alabama and Georgia by double digits.
- The Knights can finish the 2017 season with as many as four AP Top 25 wins, depending on currently 19th-ranked Memphis’ standing. Should Alabama beat Georgia, the Crimson Tide would likely also finish with four AP Top 25 wins, but with the benefit of one additional game afforded to it by its selection for the Playoff.
The arguments against UCF claiming a title are out there and really don’t need repeating, but I’ll add this: We love college football for its uniqueness, its traditions and all the other quirks that give it identity. An oft-repeated mantra I heard and read in favor of a playoff during the BCS days was that college football was the only sport that didn’t decide a champion with a postseason tournament.
I personally wonder why we want college football to be like every other sport.
Disputed national championships add to the fascinating history and the character of the sport. While the more likely byproduct of UCF’s claimed national championship is support for Playoff expansion and a step down the slippery slope purists lamented with the format’s introduction three years ago, I hope to see this move be a catalyst for more claimed championships.
Applying BCS rankings to hypothetical College Football Playoff brackets, the 2010 Horned Frogs are one of only a handful of non-AQ contenders that would have made the field. Given the committee’s apparent disdain for the Group of Five, however, that’s no guarantee.
Regardless, Gary Patterson had his best team in 2010, featuring numerous players who lost just two regular-season games over a three-year span. The culmination of that run came in a Rose Bowl win over Big Ten champion Wisconsin. Wisconsin’s established a consistent identity and routinely competes in the Big Ten with a perfected style of overwhelming defense and an offense that wins with attrition.
The 2010 Badgers were different, finishing fifth in the nation in points per game. Coming into the Rose Bowl, the Badgers scored 201 points in their previous three games. The Tanner Brock-led TCU defense limited Wisconsin to a season-low 19 points to complete a perfect regular season.
Utah, USC and Texas, 2008
The 2007 season is remembered as the most chaotic in modern college football history, and correctly so. But as far as deciding a clear national champion, 2008 produced the greatest mess of the BCS era.
The Big 12 finished with three one-loss teams, the SEC had two, powerhouse USC dominated on its way to an 11-1 finish, and Utah emerged from the Mountain West unscathed despite seeing three Top 25 teams over the course of the season. Utah scored its fourth win over a team ranked in the final poll with an impressive showing against Alabama, which was good enough to garner Utah 16 first-place votes from the AP, and start the legal process toward a playoff.
As I began working on this piece, I received the below tweet that raises an outstanding point about that Utah team:
This brings up the question that if the Utes completed their 2008 season in an era where there was existing social media and access to current data, would they have been voted co-champs? I’d contend that many AP voters knew little or nothing about that 2008 team when they voted.
— Jeff_Ute (@Jeff_Ute) January 4, 2018
Utah finished the 2008 season with wins over Oregon State, TCU, BYU and Alabama — all of which finished ranked in the Top 25. Those games aired on Versus, theMtn. and CBS College Sports, with only the Sugar Bowl airing on the more visible platform of ESPN. It’s entirely possible in a more media-savvy era today, Utah would have gained a greater share of AP votes to force a split championship.
I have long felt Utah should have claimed a share of the national championship the moment the confetti began dropping from the Superdome, the AP be damned. Basically bang the gong in the manner UCF is now. It might be nine years later, but the Utes absolutely should follow UCF’s lead.
Championship game exclusion wasn’t just for the non-AQs during the BCS era, however. USC claimed one of its two* national championships in the Pete Carroll via split decision after being past for the 2004 Sugar Bowl. A half-decade later, a Trojans team that was arguably better was left out of the conversation on perhaps shakier ground.
Like title-game participants Florida and Oklahoma both lost games in the regular season, as did USC. All three lost to opponents that finished ranked in the Top 25. Only USC lost on the road, though — Florida fell at home to Ole Miss, and Oklahoma lost on a neutral field against Texas — and the Trojans did so one game after dismantling BCS bowl qualifier Ohio State.
USC’s 32-point margin of victory might give the Trojans more valid ground for claiming a split title than Texas, which held off the Buckeyes in an exciting Fiesta Bowl, 24-21, but the Longhorns have a beef with the result of the 2008 season’s title chase. Texas lost on the road to Texas Tech, a top 6 team at the end of the regular season, which was enough to lose out on the BCS Championship Game to Oklahoma — which the Horns beat by 10 points.
The win over Oklahoma marked the first of four straight games Texas played against ranked opponents that season.
1975 Arizona State
A point I’ve seen repeated multiple times in regard to a Group of Five program ever challenging for the College Football Playoff is that having a landmark season preceding a Playoff run could do the trick. Suggestions include the 13-1 2015 Houston Cougars reaching No. 6 in the AP poll in 2016, or Boise State’s standing in the late 2000s benefiting from its 2006 run to the Fiesta Bowl (and, to this end, 2009 Boise State should absolutely consider hanging a banner).
One of the original outsiders to make noise nationally followed a similar path. Legendary Arizona State coach Frank Kush built a winner in the Western Athletic Conference, but could not get his Sun Devils to a bowl game until they ran the table in 1970. That team — which capped its season with an impressive Peach Bowl victory, much like UCF 47 years later — is responsible for the very existence of the Fiesta Bowl. To that end, it’s somewhat fitting that the first non-AQ team in the BCS played in a Fiesta Bowl (Utah in 2004) or that the crowning achievement for underdogs everywhere came in that same bowl (Boise State in 2006).
Arizona State played in four of the first five Fiesta Bowls, and in 1975, reached the pinnacle of the Kush era with a 17-14 defeat of Nebraska.