Play someone big, they said. You’ll move up in the polls, they said.
Such is the battle cry toward the University of Central Florida’s Knights. College football’s most dominant program in the new century’s second decade, based on numbers alone, resides not in Clemson or Tuscaloosa but the most magical place on Earth.
Just over a half hour’s drive from Disney World is where you’ll find UCF, which has been the college football personification of Charles Dickens’ famous opening line from A Tale of Two Cities. The past ten years have featured two conferences (Conference USA to the AAC), an imperfect 0-12 mark, and three “New Year’s Six” bowl appearances, two of which ended in victory. The Knights have won 28 of their last 29 games overall, the mere exception coming in last year’s Fiesta Bowl against LSU.
But the Knights have yet to play for a national title; those honors were instead bestowed to the Alabamas and Clemsons in the world. UCF, being the lone loss-free team in FBS/Division I-A play in 2017, did claim a “national title” on the grounds of topping the computerized Colley Matrix rankings. It’s a source of pride in Orlando, but a derogatory meme elsewhere.
The common reasoning for leaving UCF out of the conversation with other regular contenders comes in the form of a question: Who have they played???
At first glance, it’s easy to see why the powers that be at the College Football Playoff, supposedly a system that opens national championship opportunities to new squads, scoffs at the notion of UCF’s participation. The Knights have never been a member of any of the so-called “Power Five” conferences, even if their AAC grouping spawned from the remains of the Big East.
UCF somewhat improved their stock with a Peach Bowl victory over the SEC’s Auburn to break open the 2018 calendar. But while recent regular seasons have featured a plethora of victories that literally get UCF’s Spectrum Stadium rocking (it was called The Bounce House for a reason), the judges of football’s quartet of greatness were unimpressed by blowout efforts over the likes of East Carolina, Temple, Houston, etc. Consolation prizes have been awarded in the form of other New Year’s Six appearances, but fans believe the numbers, namely the number 0 in the loss column, speak for themselves.
But, efforts were nonetheless taken to bolster the non-conference slate in Orlando. Mediocre competition from elite conferences await in the future in the form of North Carolina, Georgia Tech, and Louisville. This past Saturday, however, was supposed to be different.
Stanford, coming from across the country and far closer to Disneyland, arrived with an impressive resume for an Orlando visitor. 82-26 over eights seasons with head coach David Shaw, a consistent bowl presence and working on a decade-long streak of postseason appearances. The dream of having the Cardinal ranked heading to UCF was a little too much to ask for, as they were demolished by in-state rivals from USC the week before. Nonetheless, this was UCF’s chance to prove they belonged in the elite conversation.
And prove they did. The Knights jumped out to a 21-0 before many of the hometown fans had even taken their seats. It was the beginning of an all-around dominant effort, one that climaxed with the Knights leading by as much as four touchdowns.
Surely, this was it. This would finally do it for them. The voters were blind but now they could see, leading the Knights to new heights.
Upon release of the AP polls this week, UCF moved up a mere two spots to 15th. Ahead of them are squads like Penn State, who trailed Buffalo at halftime and squeaked by UCF’s next opponent (Pittsburgh) by a mere touchdown. Florida barely got by mediocre Miami before chomping down on FCS Tennessee-Martin.
Basically, it’s simple to see why the Knights don’t play by the rules of others. Even when they win, they lose. Is Stanford the Pac-12 contending program many expected them to be? Probably not. But surely such a dominant victory from UCF is worth more than merely two AP spots?
Love drives people to do crazy things. UCF loves their football team, and so they claimed and created their own national title. Excessive? Sure. But in the wake of these moving goalposts from the powers that be in the NCAA, it’s silliness that’s completely understandable.