The unofficial kickoff to the college football season occurred this week with the start-up of media days. With their throng of over 1,000 media members, the SEC Media Days particularly steal the show in this preseason spectacle of events.
Even as everyone gets set for 2018 and coaches assess their teams with members of the press, last season still lies heavy on the minds of many, particularly when it regards UCF Football. The Knights-claimed National Championship continues to rattle the cage of the college football elite.
Alabama coach Nick Saban was the most prominent person to comment on the ongoing debate UCF has created.
“Look, I have tremendous amount of compassion for UCF and what they accomplished this year in going undefeated,” Saban said. “We’ve only had one team that’s gone undefeated and won the national championship, and that was in 2009. And that is very, very, very difficult to do for anyone. And I have a tremendous amount of respect for the players.
“Relative to UCF, I can’t tell you how or why or if they should have gotten in the playoffs,” Saban added. “… I’m not responsible for the system that determines who gets in the playoffs. But I think they did a good job of determining who got in the playoffs, and we can have another discussion about the future of the playoffs and how many teams should get in the playoffs. But (if you increase the number of playoff teams,) you’re going to minimize the bowl games. I stood up here 10 years ago (when talking about starting a playoff) and said, ‘As soon as we do this, it’s going to diminish bowl games and the importance of bowl games. Everybody will just be interested in the playoffs.’
Saban clearly was ready to answer the "UCF question" and had a thoughtful response. It is most remarkable that we are almost seven months removed from the Knights' Peach Bowl win over Auburn and the most prominent coach in the sport still is forced to comment about it.
Saban was respectful, but others that spoke out were not quite as gentile. One of the people chiefly responsible for creating such a large gap between Power 5 and Group of 5 schools also addressed UCF's fight for respect.
College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock has continually been dismissive of any bias when discussing the Knights 2017 resume. He reinforces his previous statements while in Atlanta this week.
"For the College Football Playoff, things are simple: Play a good schedule, win your games, and you're going to be in the hunt," Hancock said. "That holds true for UCF and Houston and Northern Illinois, as well as Alabama and Ohio State and Texas and Washington."
This sounds great in theory, but everyone that watches college football knows that there is bias associated with major school brand names. The perfect example from last season involves UCF and Wisconsin.
When the initial CFP top 25 poll was released last October, the Badgers were ranked ninth and the Knights placed 18th despite both having very equivalent strength of schedules At that point, UW had wins over Utah State, FAU, BYU, Northwestern, Nebraska, Purdue, Maryland and Illinois, not exactly a murderers row.
Prominent Orlando sports personality Mike Bianchi asked Hancock about the Wisconsin/UCF comparison and he offered another uninspired response.
"I don’t think the numerical ranking of the strength of schedule is as important as the committee looking at the schedules side-by-side.”
How a group of random college administrators, former coaches and other followers of the sport have usurped mathematical rankings is beyond me, but again, even in the face of significant opposition, UCF still wins here. The fact that they have made enough of an impact for this conversation to continue is a net victory.
The final and perhaps most disrespectful comments directed at the Knights came on the final day of SEC Media Days from members of the Auburn Tigers. While UCF won a hard-fought 34-27 game on the Mercedes-Benz Stadium field, the Tigers continue to try to minimize the victory.
First, enter Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn.
“We laid an egg that day,” said Malzahn. “That's not taking anything away from our opponent, excellent team, but we weren't happy with the way that season ended.
Linebacker Deshaun Davis followed his coach's lead and doubled-down.
“Honestly, it was hard to get up for that game knowing that we should have been playing in the College Football Playoffs,” Davis said. “The two teams we beat conventionally [Georgia, Alabama] were playing in the playoff and the national championship game.
“They [UCF] took that game way more seriously than we did, not to take any credit away from them. They’re a great football team and have every right to hold their heads up high. They made plays and we didn’t make plays.”
How each of these people on the Auburn side can say they did not give total effort while still complimenting the team UCF had is beyond me. I guess Auburn's comeback in the game was just blind luck?
If you are a Knights fan, these comments probably sting but keep them in perspective. The efforts started by athletic director Danny White have worked and now the program is a larger part of the national discussion than ever before.
Fighting against years of tradition is always going to put UCF in the position of the challenger, but that is part of what makes following the team's success fun. The only thing left for the Knights to do is to follow up on last year's run and further establish their name in the eyes of the public by having another strong season.
Photo via @UCF_Football on Twitter