ORLANDO — The happiest place on Earth is downright miffed.
Sunny Orlando, with its friendly tourist vibe and its laid-back people, is in a dark mood after a bunch of football experts in Grapevine, Texas, dissed its hometown team.
“I thought finally we’d get a little more respect,” said UCF athletics director Danny White. “It doesn’t seem to matter what we do.”
White has decided to speak out after the College Football Playoff rankings left the Knights 14th in the country despite a spotless record. He tweeted a “What?!?” GIF on Tuesday night, and he wasn’t done on Wednesday. He’s upset for his school as well as the other schools in the American Athletic Conference.
“Our league is as competitive as a lot of these so-called P-5 conferences,” he said. “That’s why I’m speaking up about it. We need to continue to build our football program. We can’t accept the lack of respect the conference is currently being shown.”
The fans are even more bothered. After seeing the rankings, Ken Kueker, 52, decided he wanted to do something about it. He manages an electronic billboard on Colonial Drive, not too far from the UCF campus, and he uploaded a simple message: “College Football Playoff. Stop The P-5 Bias.”
“I think it’s completely and totally outrageous,” said Keuker. “In the grand scheme of life, sports is sports. But in terms of sports, there’s no excuse for it.”
He said the billboard message took about 30 minutes to design and 10 minutes to upload. (That’s “UCFast,” as the saying goes.)
“I’m on the UCF Rivals message boards,” Keuker said. “There’s a lot of dislike for the rankings and a lot of disrespect for college football in general, not just the ranking.”
Indeed, many fans are upset at the whole system, and want the proverbial swamp drained.
“UCF completed a perfect [regular] season, with a blowout win over a top-20 team, and you have three-loss teams jumping us every week,” says Jake Whitacre, who works at the now-famous downtown bar that serves free beer during games. “The CFP committee has lost all legitimacy around here.”
Part of it is a general underdog mentality about the school itself. A lot of people out of state don’t know where UCF is, or have no idea it’s one of the biggest schools in America (64,000 students). So the nerves are especially raw among new alums and old.
“We had choices when we decided to go to UCF,” says Gabriel Castillo, 34. “We’re not a safety school like FSU.”
These rankings hit especially hard after a thrilling win over rival USF on national television last Friday. Scott Frost’s team was a carnival of offense, scoring on a last-minute kickoff return touchdown to send the home crowd into a delirium.
And all it did was earn one uptick in the rankings, from No. 15 to No. 14.
“The No. 1 team [Clemson] lost to Syracuse,” White said. “I don’t think Syracuse is even bowl eligible.” (It’s not.)
White has even researched other non-Power Five teams from the last two decades, including Utah under Urban Meyer and Boise State under Chris Peterson. Those teams got higher rankings. So did TCU, which rose as high as third in 2010 when Andy Dalton was under center.
“Somehow the rules of engagement have changed,” White said. “It’s not as meaningful to win every game.”
The backdrop of all this is the uncertainty of whether UCF will get to keep its star coach. There are rumors of interest in Frost from all over the country, and fans here wonder if the rankings are another reason for him to leave.
“I don’t think anyone thinks we should be in the playoff this year, but this makes you wonder if we would ever have a chance at the playoff,” said Lauren Fulford, another UCF grad. “And I know Scott Frost is probably torn about staying, and this may be a factor in that.”
White said he would “put our roster of coaches up against any in the country,” but he acknowledges this year is a potential tipping point for the program. He wanted to bring a high-paced offense to the school, and he did. The next step is selling a boatload of season tickets, and then eventually the home stadium can be expanded from 45,000 seats. It has the ability to move up to 65,000.
“We’re hoping very soon we’re selling the stadium out, then we need to start talking expansion,” White said.
The counterargument to the resentment here is UCF’s strength of schedule (83rd, according to Sagarin), which is debatable – even compared to prior upstart teams like TCU. In its defense, a game against Georgia Tech was canceled this season because of Hurricane Irma. But perhaps the Knights need to schedule some tougher teams?
“I don’t think we should have to,” White said. “We can’t control a hurricane. Nobody else is taking four non-conference games and scheduling more than two on the road. It’s hard to get home and home. We believe in home-and-homes. We’re trying to play as good a opponent as we can get. A lot of schools don’t want to play us.”
UCF has two more chances to show off for the powers that be. They host the conference championship game this weekend against Memphis, and then they will be assigned to a bowl game. Fans remember when Blake Bortles and Co. were heavy underdogs to Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl in 2014 and pulled a major upset. They want that feeling again. They want a playoff-worthy opponent, if not an actual playoff opponent.
“Miami would be awesome,” Castillo said. “I do believe they’ve gotten away by the hair of their chin in a couple of games. I’d like to put them in their place.”
Sounds like the makings of a civil conflict.
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