The Team with a Nation on its Shoulder

With over 66,000 students enrolled, the University of Central Florida is the nation’s largest university. That’s a higher student population than the population of NINE countries! This number is extremely impressive considering the school itself will be turning 50 years old in October, which is extremely young relative to other large state schools. If size alone wasn’t enough, UCF drew attention on a national scale when it declared itself “National Champions” at the end of the 2017 season. After defeating Auburn 34-27 in the Peach Bowl, UCF’s Athletic Director Danny White claimed the National Championship, and then went on to campaign for months on end. This claim has resulted in a number of things, including criticism and mockery from athletes and sportscasters, memes, and of course “2017 National Champions” in bold across the top of Spectrum Stadium.

The majority of the college football nation does not see any legitimacy in UCF’s self-appointed championship, but this is far from the first time it has happened in college football history. There are 24 other self-appointed national championships, with the most recent being USC’s 2003 Title despite LSU defeating Oklahoma in the BCS Championship. Even though they did not play in the championship game, they finished the year ranked #1 in the AP Poll, which they felt justified their claim.

The “other” 2017 National Champion, Alabama, has itself claimed 5 titles. 1 of these title claims goes back to 1941, where at the time, the last AP ranking came out before the final games of the season. Alabama was ranked 20th due to two losses that year heading into the final week. They defeated Texas A&M in their last game, but were still well behind three undefeated teams who remained. Yet, Alabama claimed the 1941 Championship for themselves more than 40 years later using an obscure ranking formula created by the statistician Deke Houlgate. This strange algorithm ended up ranking Alabama 1st in 1941, which they then used as the basis to claim the Championship. This claim is far more outrageous than an undefeated team claiming a title after beating one of the best teams in the nation, but some would disagree.

I will say that I personally, as a UCF student who attended every home game as well as the Peach Bowl, never jumped on the Championship bandwagon. I understand and agree with the strength of schedule argument as well as the established route of naming the Champion, the College Football Playoffs. UCF was not in the playoffs. They were not in the Championship. They were not the 2017 National Champions, but they were the last undefeated team in the country. Which warrants the argument, did UCF deserve to be in the playoffs? I think they proved they did when they competed with one of the best team’s in the country and won. However, the playoff committee will still most likely disagree.

Regardless of your stance on the issue, there is one thing that is certain: the 2018 season is well underway, and UCF has already moved up to number 13 in the AP Poll despite having a power 5 opponent game canceled (North Carolina; 0-2) due to Hurricane Florence. UCF’s offense is more than mirroring its performance last year, with Mackenzie Milton already accounting for 9 passing touchdowns, 3 rushing touchdowns, and 895 passing yards. The track star, Adrian Killans Jr., has produced three touchdowns as well on the ground. Its no question the offense is firing on all cylinders, however, UCF’s biggest concern still remains on defense.

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After losing arguably their two best defenders, Mike Hughes and Shaquem Griffin to the NFL draft, UCF has shown holes in an already spotty defense. UCF’s ability to maintain their 17-0 win streak will depend completely on their ability to get defensive stops, and keep the offense on the field. This can

be difficult at times, however, when a fast-paced offense like UCF’s continues to score while giving its defense little to no rest.

With the next game being against non-conference opponent Pittsburgh, we will see if UCF’s offense will be able to keep winning games and covering up the defense’s flaws. There is still a lot of season left, and time will tell if UCF will be able to repeat an undefeated year. The question arises, what if they do it? What if they remain undefeated for a second straight year? At that point, can the playoff committee legitimately get away with keeping them out of a playoff spot? Will Danny White’s Championship campaign have made enough noise and press that they will feel the need to end the discussion once and for all? We have a whole season to find out, but I know one thing. By giving an undefeated UCF team the 4th seed, there will be no question at the end of this season. There will be no self-proclaimed National Champion. Just 4 teams competing for the trophy. And who knows, maybe that was Danny White’s plan all along.