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UCF’s National Championship, Explained

Yes, the UCF Knights are National Champions for 2017

The UCF Knights celebrate their Peach Bowl victory -- and national championship -- in Atlanta on Jan. 1. (Photo: Derek Warden)
The UCF Knights celebrate their Peach Bowl victory -- and national championship -- in Atlanta on Jan. 1. (Photo: Derek Warden)

It's just so awesome, isn't it? Every time something comes up about UCF's National Championship, the Alabama people flip the hell out. Now it's Nick Saban's turn.

Guys, this argument is going to be with us forever. So if you're a UCF fan, or just like what UCF is doing to the college football world, you may as well arm yourself for the long haul with some facts.

Rule #1 of the internet is this: Don't engage the trolls.

But if you, dear Knight fans, find the temptation impossible to resist, or you just have this one annoying uncle from Alabama who has a crimson pickup and two dogs named Bear and Bryant that you have to deal with every Thanksgiving, we give you this handy, iron-clad, definitive guide to countering every argument against UCF's national championship claim.

Let us begin:

UCF Didn't Win the National Championship

You guys are NOT the national champions.

Yeah, we are. The NCAA says so in its official record book:

NCAA 2018-2019 FBS Record Book, page 115
NCAA 2018-2019 FBS Record Book, page 115
NCAA 2018-2019 Record Book

Let’s zoom in a bit here:

2017 National Poll Champions, page 115, NCAA FBS 2018-2019 Record Book
2017 National Poll Champions, page 115, NCAA FBS 2018-2019 Record Book
NCAA 2018-2019 Record Book

There it is. We are a national champion. We got t-shirts and had a parade and everything:

No, you're not. Alabama is THE national champion. They beat Georgia in the CFP National Championship.

That’s awesome. Good for them. But they are a national champion — not the national champion.

Here’s how this works:

As we all know by now, Division I FBS Football is the only sport the NCAA sponsors where the NCAA itself doesn’t sponsor a national championship.

You’ll notice how NCAA national champions in all sports — including FCS football — raise a trophy that looks like this:

2022 NCAA Division I Football Championship
The NCAA National Football Championship Trophy
Photo by C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Looks just like this:

North Carolina v Kansas
NCAA Basketball National Championship Trophy
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

But not this:

Rose Bowl - Oregon v Florida State
The CFP Trophy
Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

This is a stone-cold fact: The NCAA does not award a national championship in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

We won’t get into how this stupid system came about, but instead, they outsource awarding the national championship every year to various selectors that they approve, including polls such as the AP and the Coaches, computer rankings such as the Colley Matrix and Sagarin, and fairly recently, the BCS and the College Football Playoff.

At the end of the season, all these selectors award a national championship based on their criteria, be it being voted #1 (like in the AP Poll), or, say, winning an invitational tournament that they control (like the CFP).

It’s up to the teams to claim that national championship, or not.

For example, let’s look at Miami in 2000.

The New York Times, an NCAA selector, awarded them the national title because they beat Florida State in the regular season, but the BCS rankings put FSU in the Orange Bowl over them, which they lost to Oklahoma. The BCS national champion was Oklahoma, but Miami could claim it. They just chose not to, as they have on three other occasions.

That’s how we’ve had split national titles in the past, and that’s how we can have one now.

In 2017, UCF finished #1 in the Colley Matrix, which is recognized by the NCAA as a championship selector for the FBS level. UCF claimed that title.

As an added bonus, UCF was honored by the Columbus Touchdown Club and Reddit’s r/CFB as national champions. And we also we cannot forget But they aren’t NCAA selectors.

But Colley is. So there you have it, signed, sealed, and delivered.

Colley is a computer ranking. You didn't win it on the field.

Oh yeah? Did the 1941 Alabama team ”win it on the field”? How about 1934? Or Oklahoma State in 1945? Or Kentucky in 1950?

Yet they all claimed a national title for those seasons, despite the “consenus” national champion being someone else.

Yeah, but that was from another era.

Really? I don’t see Bama taking 1941 down. It’s right up there in their 2018 Spring Football Media guide, next to all of the other ones from this era:

1941. LOL. (Alabama Media Guide)
1941. LOL.
Alabama Football Media Guide

Two can play that game:

UCF's National Champions Marquee at Spectrum Stadium. (Photo: Derek Warden)
UCF's National Champions Marquee at Spectrum Stadium. (Photo: Derek Warden)
Photo: Derek Warden

Here’s the kicker:

UCF is the only team that didn’t lose a game last year. 13-0. Plus UCF beat Auburn in the Peach Bowl, who beat both Alabama and Georgia in the regular season.

You’re just declaring yourselves national champions. The transitive property doesn’t apply in college football.

True. That’s fine. But that doesn’t change the fact that UCF is still a national champion for 2017 by virtue of claiming the Colley Matrix national championship.

The 2017 national title is officially split between UCF and Alabama, per the NCAA. Case closed.

UCF's Schedule Was Weak

Yeah but Bama played a better schedule than you.

You know nothing about scheduling. You play the games in front of you, and UCF’s non-conference schedule was determined years in advance, just like everyone else’s.

Consider UCF’s recent non-conference agreements, and the records of the teams they scheduled at the time they scheduled them (Due credit to our Twitter follower who composed this - it was a while back, so please let us know if it was you):

UCF’s non-conference P5 scheduling agreements

In 2017, UCF played Maryland and crushed them in College Park. UCF also played USF and Memphis to end the year - two ranked teams who should have been ranked in the CFP rankings in addition to UCF but weren’t - and beat them both.

Oh, by the way, they were supposed to play Georgia Tech but didn’t because of the hurricane. That’s not UCF’s fault.

And if you want UCF to play a better schedule going forward, well, look what just happened:

Yeah, but you didn't play any good teams. Bama did.

OK, let’s break that down:

2017 Record Comparison: UCF vs. Alabama

Category UCF Alabama
Category UCF Alabama
Record vs. Bowl Teams 8-0 8-1
Margin of Victory +16.8 +11.6
Record vs. Final AP Top 25 Teams 4-0 4-1
Margin of Victory +12.0 +4.8

UCF won nine games against teams with winning records, and four that finished in the AP Top 25. Eight of their wins were against seven bowl teams (UCF beat Memphis twice), and they beat those teams by a wider margin than Alabama did.

The one team Bama lost to in those games was Auburn. UCF beat them.

Yeah but every year one of you G5 teams goes undefeated by beating a stack of cupcakes.

I’m sorry - Cupcakes?

Oh come on, you played Austin Peay in late October?

Austin Peay, the Knights’ lone FCS opponent, finished 8-4 and 7-1 in their league in FCS, and we racked up a school-record 73 points on them.

The Austin Peay game was also scheduled right after a frickin’ Category 4 hurricane wiped out two of UCF’s first three games. And they should have made the FCS Playoffs, but were snubbed.

Also, Alabama played Mercer later in the season, on November 18th. Mercer finished 5-6 and placed 5th in the SoCon, and scored only 56 on them. So they couldn’t even pick the right cupcake to squash.

So if we’re comparing FCS opponents, UCF wins on that one.

Alabama had a MUCH tougher schedule than UCF because they're in the SEC and UCF is in The American.

Actually, no, they didn’t:

2017 Strength of Schedule: UCF vs. Alabama

Ranking System Alabama UCF Note
Ranking System Alabama UCF Note
Warren Nolan 6th 12th Based on opp win%. (UCF .611, Bama .641)
ESPN FPI 1st 6th
SB Nation Resume S&P+ 1st 10th S&P+ ranks: UCF 9th, Alabama 2nd

UCF was just a flash in the pan

Enjoy your 15 minutes of fame before fading back into obscurity.

We’ve actually been enjoying a nice run since 2012. UCF is one of only 27 programs that have won 50 games since that year. And that was with one winless season sandwiched in.

Yeah, about that 0-12 in 2015...

Yeah, what about it? Why lie: It was a colossal disaster. And it set the stage for the greatest two-year turnaround in college football history:

But you haven't really been all that good for a while anyway.

Uh, since 2005:

  • 7 division titles
  • 5 conference titles (in two conferences!)
  • 5 10-win seasons
  • 9 bowl appearances
  • 2-0 in BCS/NY6 Bowls

Yeah, but you're not a sustained contender like Boise State.

Check again, and I remind you that this is with a 0-12 season sandwiched in:

Yeah but they play a tough non-conference slate every year. Why don’t you?

News flash: UCF’s non-conference scheduling has been better than Boise State’s over the past decade:

UCF's Conference is Inferior

If you don't like your conference, then get into a better conference!

OK, sure!

Dammit, nothing happened. Been trying that for years now. Maybe one day it’ll work.

Bama is in the SEC. They're a MUCH better conference than The American.

No, they actually weren’t in 2017, from top to bottom:

2017 Conference Comparison

Criteria SEC AAC
Criteria SEC AAC
10-win teams 3 3
.500 or below teams 5 5
Bowl Record 5-6 4-3
Bowl Record vs. P5 4-5 3-1

And if we take total non-conference competition into account:

2017 Non-Conference Records

Record vs. Power Five AAC SEC
Record vs. Power Five AAC SEC
Regular Season 4-12 8-9
Bowls 3-1 4-4
Total 7-13 12-13

So is the SEC better than The American? In 2017, not nearly by as much as you think.

Whatever. Auburn would've whipped you if they cared.

You mean they didn’t care enough after they and their vaunted SEC speed got called out publicly?

Tell that to Auburn’s star running back Kerryon Johnson, who said after the game:

“To those who thought we weren’t motivated, you’re not in our locker room, you’re not in our practices, you’re not in our meeting rooms. Obviously they don’t know what is going on. We were plenty motivated to get this win. (We) just literally shot ourselves in the foot.”

UCF doesn't produce NFL-level talent.

False. Do your homework on that one.

Well, your conference doesn't, anyway.

False again.

If you had better teams in your league, you'd have better resources.


And yet.

But...The Playoff!

If you really were good enough, the committee would have put you in the playoff.

That’s not UCF’s fault. UCF was undefeated throughout the whole season and got froze out of the Playoff because of the committee’s bias against non-Power Five teams in its rankings. UCF got leapfrogged in the rankings by two-and three-loss teams when it should have been moved up each week.

Hell, both USF (10-2) and Memphis (10-3) should have been ranked by the committee but weren’t. Those wins ended up hurting UCF with the committee, who produce their own rankings based on the “Eye Test.”

Bottom line: UCF is the first, and so far only, undefeated team in the CFP Era. And winning all of its games wasn’t enough to get the Knights into the party. That’s wrong on every level.

But don’t take our word for it. Take it from Rodger Sherman of The Ringer:

Well, you agreed to the CFP system.

Uh-huh - Under the guise that it would be fairer to teams from the Group of Five than the BCS. NEWS FLASH: It’s not. And we just proved it.

Digest these factoids (hat tip to an Iowa fan somewhere):

  • 2017 UCF is one of 159 teams over the past 40 seasons to win at least three games versus ranked competition during the regular season, and one of only three non-power league teams to do so.
  • UCF is also one of only 36 undefeated teams to win at least three games versus ranked competition during the regular season. 34 of them placed in the AP Top 4. 2008 Utah (finished #7) and UCF (#10) are the exceptions.

So the CFP is no different than the BCS. It just has four teams in the party and not two.

Meme courtesy @RBJ2K1
Meme courtesy @RBJ2K1