UCF is Not a National Champion, but Definitely a Team on the Rise

Story posted January 4, 2019 in Sports, CommRadio by Logan Dolby

After a tremendous 2018 season, there will be no bogus national championship claimed by the University of Central Florida and its faithful fans.

A year removed from their miracle “national title” run that led to UCF residing at the top of one of the many metrics used in deciding a potential college football national title winner, UCF suffered its first loss in over two years handed to them by LSU in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl this New Year’s Day.

It is officially done. The reign is over and the college football selection committee can finally take a breath of fresh air. No more second guessing. No more complaints from fans that want to see a team with an undefeated record that plays in a non-power five conference play against one of the all-time dynasties in all of sports for a spot in the national championship game.

The biggest question entering the college football bowl season this year was about which team was going to fill in the remaining spot of the four-team playoff.

Clearly Alabama and Clemson were getting in due to their complete dominance in-conference and just how these two juggernauts looked on the field each week. Notre Dame was getting in because of their undefeated season and the fact that they are Notre Dame, but at the end of the day, it looked like they truly did not belong.

The final spot really came down to Ohio State, Oklahoma, Georgia and the undefeated, reigning national champions University of Central Florida Knights, which had lost their starting quarterback McKenzie Milton a few weeks prior.

Oklahoma would eventually get into the playoff and fall to the Crimson Tide 45-34 in a game that was not competitive in the first half.

So why not place UCF at the number four spot in hindsight? The Knights had won 25 consecutive games against FBS opponents and were fresh off of an American Athletic Conference title victory over rival Memphis. They had all the swagger and felt like they deserved a top spot this year, and a chance for a true national title.

First and foremost, the Knights only played one ranked opponent all year when they played Cincinnati at home in Orlando, Florida. Their schedule was extremely weak this year and featured no other double-digit game winning football teams.

That is just unacceptable if a program is trying to make its case as one of the best in the nation. No committee member should be willing to pit a team against Alabama and its multiple future first-round draft picks when their best win is against Cincinnati.

The second reason why UCF was held out was because of the injury to their star quarterback McKenzie Milton. The Junior signal caller recorded 2970 total yards and 34 total touchdowns while only throwing six interceptions in 10 games played this year. Milton paired with a rushing attack that featured multiple talented backs, Greg McCrae and Taj McGowan, who were extremely dangerous and effective this year against the American Athletic Conference, a conference that went 2-5 this bowl season.

Milton’s injury not only hurt UCF on the field in terms of play or in the locker room because of the loss of his leadership, but also hurt the team in the eyes of the 13 committee members, which would ultimately make the final cut of the four teams moving forward.

The team they selected was Oklahoma, a team that has won consecutive Big 12 championships and also has featured the past two Heisman Trophy winners with Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, leading the program to back-to-back College Football Playoff berths.

When you look at the resumes of the two teams, they really are not close. Oklahoma had multiple top-25 wins this past year, and only one loss in one of the top four conferences in the country. Plus, they boasted one of the most talented quarterbacks in the nation with Kyler Murray.

Oklahoma is also one of those blue-chip programs that are found around the nation, a program that is absolutely expected to have double-digit wins every year.

Could the Knights even have competed against Oklahoma? I doubt it. As high powered as UCF had looked all year, Oklahoma just had too much juice for a team like that to compete against.

Regardless of that, does anyone actually think that Central Florida would have made it out of the first quarter alive against Nick Saban and his team of what sometimes seems like demigods playing a mortal game? Absolutely, positively not. That game would have been a complete joke and a blowout.

Any actual college football fan should be grateful that the committee chose Oklahoma over UCF. The Cotton Bowl Classic, which featured Clemson vs. Notre Dame was an absolute waste of everybody’s time, but at least the Orange Bowl was somewhat entertaining.

UCF could not handle its own matchup against LSU, a team that had a hard time forming an identity all year with transfer quarterback Joe Burrow and talented running back Nick Brossette heading the offense that was backed up by a traditionally strong defense.

Clearly, both teams were very talented this year. A program typically is not just handed a New Years Six bowl game bid for nothing. A 12-0 record and winning their conference definitely makes the Knights a major bowl contender and they got a great fight out of LSU.

UCF’s offensive line was overmatched most of the night. This led to the offense, led by backup quarterback Darriel Mack Jr., to stall at times.

Also, the Knights defense made Joe Burrow look like Joe Montana all night long besides the pick-six he threw in the early stages of the contest.
Ultimately, the Tigers would down the Knights 40-32 and end two seasons of good vibes only for UCF on a losing note.

Now it seems like all is quiet in Orlando, and there certainly is disappointment in the UCF fan base. But. this is what a young program on the rise looks like.

This program reminds me of the Boise State teams when they were coached by Chris Peterson. Under his tutelage the Broncos went 92-12, but always played in a weak conference and never got a national title nod.

That is what this UCF team can be in a few years, especially if the program keeps recruiting quality players. The offensive line needs work, but next year offensive leaders McKenzie Milton, Greg McCrae and Gabe Davis are all eligible to return, and should. While the team enjoys success, they need to hit the recruiting trail hard. UCF is still a perennial contender in the AAC and has the Florida pipeline to recruit from.

Small programs are built from the ground up. Yes, the Knights suffered a loss to a powerful SEC opponent in the Fiesta Bowl. Let us not forget that five years ago UCF was playing Ball State in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl. This is major progress for the program as a whole. If the Knights continue to dominate the non-power five, they should expect much more post-season exposure, which will lead to recruits.

Is UCF a national title contender at the moment? Of course they aren’t, but they most certainly are a program on the rise. Be prepared to see the Gold and Black in the top 20 for a long time.

 

 

Logan Dolby is a junior studying broadcast journalism. To contact him, email ldd5135@psu.edu.

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