Breaking news: The UCF Football team is undefeated. The Knights are the highest-scoring squad in the FBS, possess a pretty strong defense and one of college football's best kick return units. Moreover, they are coming off a win over the formidable South Florida Bulls in what was most likely the greatest football game in UCF history.
The Knights' reward for all of this was revealed Tuesday night in the latest College Football Playoff rankings. They moved up one spot, from No. 15 to No. 14.
Let's say people are ... not pleased.
You've gotta be kidding me!!!— Danny White (@UCFDannyWhite) November 29, 2017
The College Football Playoff selection committee deems 13 teams better than an 11-0 UCF team that leads the nation in scoring (48.3).— Matt Fortuna (@Matt_Fortuna) November 29, 2017
WOW: After their 49-42 win vs. USF, @UCF_Football only moves up 1 SPOT! (15–>14) Only UNDEFEATED team outside the Top 10! Only way to prove committee wrong is to KEEP WINNING!— Erik Kohler (@eksports_radio) November 29, 2017
There's is so much more vitriol out there and it's all perfectly understandable. The Knights are being overlooked by the CFP committee because they aren't a Power 5 team. Do the committee members watch UCF games? They should have watched that thriller Friday night like so many others did, but they were probably too busy Christmas shopping. We can sit here all day and talk about the faults in the CFP system, which are real and numerous and sell Group of 5 programs short. Consider that the Knights have done everything possible to earn a higher ranking yet sit behind seven teams that have two or more losses. The detractors say UCF's downfall is its middling strength of schedule, but that's where a catch-22 resides: How do you improve your schedule when marquee programs won't agree to play you out of fear of losing?
Heck, take your mind off of the Knights for a second and consider this from UCF's own athletics director:
The biggest disrespect here is how in the world is @USFFootball not in the #CFP Top 25?! They have a heck of a FB team. The American is much stronger than what tonight's ranking indicates. It's about the present & the future, not the past! #Power6— Danny White (@UCFDannyWhite) November 29, 2017
Rival or not, White is spot-on. Mississippi State has four losses and a starting quarterback whose right ankle did a half-Linda Blair last week, yet the Bulldogs are ranked No. 23. It's another instance of a power-conference team getting the benefit of the doubt. It's also straight-up wrong.
But I digress.
We Knights fans should feel that our team has been neglected and disrespected and shortchanged. And after we exorcise that anger, we should realize this: Where UCF is placed in the College Football Playoff rankings is ultimately meaningless.
Rankings are fun for fans because they present an easy reference point to say that you are better than someone else. Being able to brag that your football team is better than Notre Dame's or LSU's or Oklahoma State's, that's an honest token of pride for Knight Nation. But fans need to think about the big picture here.
There are only two options for every team as the CFP system is currently constituted. These are the same two options that ESPN has pounded into our brains for four years now: Are you in or are you out? And by "in," that means inside the top four of the CFP rankings. That's a place where UCF could never dare to tread this season. Even if the Knights had played as scheduled and defeated Georgia Tech back in September, this team was never going to be considered as one of the top four in the country. I will grant you that they should be perhaps No. 10 right now. Maybe even a notch higher at the absolute most. However, the Knights are not racing ahead of Clemson or Auburn or Georgia or Oklahoma or Alabama or Wisconsin. Even if you disagree with some of that statement, you can't unbiasedly say that the Knights are better than half of that field, which is what they would need to be in order to be "in."
Thus, the Knights are "out," so to speak. And that's fine because that's all anyone should have expected. In UCF's case, it is then inconsequential whether it is ranked ninth or 10th or 14th or 15th, etc. All that matters is that the Knights finish the season as the highest-ranked Group of 5 team, which they will be with a victory Saturday versus Memphis. Shouldn't that be where everyone's focus lies?
I should give credit here to BGB's Eric Lopez since I'm basically parroting something he said on the podcast a few weeks ago, but I want to address one more issue when it comes to rankings.
Do you remember where the Knights were ranked in the Associated Press Poll after they won the American Athletic Conference championship in December 2013? Think about it. How about after their bowl game that season -- do you remember where the Knights were slotted then?
The answers are 15 and 10, respectively. A few die-hards probably know that off the top of their head. But everyone remembers Blake Bortles and Co. overwhelming Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl.
How about where the Knights were ranked at the conclusion of the 2010 season: No. 21 in the AP Poll, No. 20 in the Coaches Poll. Did you forget that they were ranked at all that year? Even if so, I'm willing to bet you recall the Knights shutting down a Georgia offense led by Aaron Murray and A.J. freaking Green to win the Liberty Bowl.
Until the current system changes, getting riled up over rankings is wasted energy. The CFP as is does not respect Group of 5 teams. It's sad but true, and we have to live with it right now. With that being said, everything the Knights and their fans could possibly -- realistically -- hope for remains on the table. If UCF is victorious this weekend and then goes on to prove its worthiness at the Peach Bowl on Jan. 1, it will be those games, those events, that you remember for ever and ever. You will warm your heart with how you felt when this team triumphed. You will share memories of game-changing plays with your family. You will frame the photo of the moment when UCF raised the championship trophy. That is what's important.
The number next to the Knights' name will just be fodder for history.