If UCF had lost to Auburn in the Peach Bowl on Monday, as expected, this would have been an ultra-successful season for the Knights, who cruised through their Conference USA slate to finish the regular season 12-0 and ranked No. 12 in the nation.
But in beating the Tigers 34-27, UCF finished off a truly historic campaign and, according to one extremely biased observer, staked a claim at a national title. After Monday’s game, Knights athletic director Danny White stared right into a camera and proclaimed, “national champs, undefeated.”
— Orlando’s Hometown Team (@UCFKnights) January 1, 2018
Now obviously UCF did not actually win a national championship, but in finishing the season 13-0, the Knights did at least force us to consider their case as one of the nation’s best teams.
UCF was never really in the running for a Playoff spot due to a lack of marquee victories. The Knights beat only one Power-Five opponent (Maryland, which finished 4-8), and their lone win over a ranked team came in double-overtime against No. 20 Memphis. That made it awfully hard to argue Scott Frost’s team ranked among the best in the country.
But in beating No. 7 Auburn, which defeated Alabama and Georgia when each was ranked No. 1, UCF put to rest the notion it can’t play with major-conference powers. If the Knights had a win over Auburn on their resume entering the CFP selection process, they could have at least entered the conversation for a Playoff bid. Because they waited until the postseason to pick up a marquee victory, they got left far behind.
Of course, there’s no going back now. UCF didn’t have the resume to compete for a national championship and will instead have to settle for a perfect record and a Peach Bowl title. And if White wants to claim a title for his undefeated team… well, more power to him.