Around and around we go.
Five months ago, Central Florida, led by athletic director Danny White, began declaring itself as a national champion for the 2017 season. Since then, what started as a cutesy underdog story has transformed into a strange back-and-forth between UCF and Alabama, the team that won the College Football Playoff.
Nick Saban, who is not on board with UCF’s claim, and Scott Frost escalated things this week.
Scott Frost’s take
“Alabama’s probably got one or two championships they claim that weren’t necessarily recognized by everybody,” Frost said.
Frost inherited a UCF team that was winless in 2015 and transformed it into an undefeated AAC and Peach Bowl champion in 2017 before taking the same position at his alma mater. Earlier this month, he admitted he was a little uneasy about UCF’s continual national title boasts.
“All I’ll say is if we had stayed (at UCF), I would have had a hard time getting behind it,” Frost told USA Today. “I think it was smart by them, because it has kept UCF in the media and in the conversation. But you know, like our rings, I kind of wish my ring just said ‘Undefeated Season’ and ‘Peach Bowl Champion.’ ”
Those feelings, however, didn’t stop him from responding with that brief jab at Saban.
Nick Saban’s take
At first, Saban, the longtime Alabama head coach, was mostly indifferent on the matter. Before his team bested Georgia in the CFP title game back in January, Saban said he was “fine” with UCF’s title boasts, but that it “doesn’t mean anything to anybody but them.”
In an interview with USA Today, he took things a step further.
“If you honor and respect the system that we have, (despite) some of the imperfections that you understand that the system has, then you wouldn’t do something out of respect for the system that we have,” Saban said. “I guess anybody has the prerogative to claim anything. But self-proclaimed is not the same as actually earning it. And there’s probably a significant number of people who don’t respect people who make self-proclaimed sort of accolades for themselves.”
How did we get here?
The Knights cruised through the regular season 11-0 before dispatching Memphis in the AAC title game. Still, the Knights came in at only No. 12 in the final College Football Playoff rankings. From there, UCF knocked off SEC runner-up Auburn in the Peach Bowl to finish 13-0 and immediately began the national championship campaign. It continued even after Alabama won the CFP title.
Why did UCF declare itself a national champion, anyway?
First and foremost, it was to commemorate a tremendous season. But even though it rubbed some folks the wrong way, White was making a point. When UCF was ranked No. 14 in the CFP selection committee’s second-to-last rankings, White told Yahoo Sports that he “couldn’t accept the lack of respect” for the AAC.
CFP executive director Bill Hancock said UCF’s ranking was where it was because of the team’s strength of schedule. White never bought that line. Instead, he thinks the committee has “an inherent bias that needs to be called out.” After the Peach Bowl, Frost said it looked like there was a “conscious effort” from the CFP committee to “make sure they didn’t have a problem if they put (UCF) too high.” Frost has not backed down from that stance, even since he took the Nebraska job.
When will it end?
This stuff is peak offseason, isn’t it? With actual real life football still months away, don’t expect reporters to stop asking the involved figures about this — especially after Alabama removed UCF from its 2023 schedule in order to finalize a home-and-home series with Texas.
UCF, even with ex-Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Heupel in the fold as head coach, probably won’t mind. In March, the school claimed the final three games of the 2017 season — wins over South Florida, Memphis and Auburn — earned it more than $171 million in exposure.
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