On Monday night, Atlanta will be the center of the college football world and the only teams being talked about will be Alabama and Georgia.
The Crimson Tide (12-1) and Bulldogs (13-1) will meet in the College Football Playoff National Championship, and the one who walks off the turf at Mercedes-Benz Stadium will be covered in confetti and holding the big trophy.
They will be the consensus No. 1, and hailed as such.
Yet there will be a certain satisfaction in being a member of the Central Florida University football team.
Because while the official national champs will have one blemish on their record, UCF players will have been on the only team that has none.
The Knights beat all comers, and with a 13-0 record they are the lone unbeaten in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Their perfect season was capped off with a Peach Bowl victory over Auburn – the team that beat both Georgia and Alabama in the regular season.
Ironically, the conquest came at the same stadium that will crown a champion on Jan. 8.
Yet, UCF was not part of the CFP, ranked No. 12 entering the bowls. And even if the field had been expanded from four teams to eight, trust me – they still would not have been part of the CFP.
Oh, they got invited to the party in the form of a New Year’s Six bowl game, but they were never going to be allowed to participate in the celebration.
When it comes to playoffs, it’s a Power 5 world … and Group of 5 teams don’t even get to live in it.
“I guess to the (CFP Selection) Committee, it’s just what more can we do?” asked Knights linebacker Shaquem Griffin. “We won all of them, and I just feel that we should have had an opportunity to show our talents to any and every team that wants to go against us. There’s no more teams left for us to beat.”
There’s no way of knowing how Central Florida would’ve fared in the playoff, but it would’ve been nice to know, wouldn’t it?
But that was never part of the plan.
Allowing the top Group of 5 team to make a “big” bowl game is really rather cynical, when you think about it.
By throwing them that particular bone, it’s the FBS’s way of saying, “You really don’t belong, but we’ll pretend like you do.”
“Going through the season, I was afraid to say much about the rankings and everything because I’m a little superstitious,” said UCF’s outgoing boss Scott Frost, who is now officially on the job as the head coach at his alma mater, Nebraska. “And just when a coach starts running his mouth, that’s when you lose the next game. But it wasn’t right. I was watching every week, the Committee sitting in a room and decide this two-loss team must be better than UCF because UCF is in the American (Athletic Conference). Or this three-loss team must be better than UCF.”
The argument, of course, is strength of schedule. Conventional wisdom suggests the SEC, ACC, Big 12, etc., play a tougher slate that any team in the AAC.
But UCF’s schedule was anything but a breeze.
Both Memphis and South Florida were quality league foes, and they had to beat the Tigers twice.
The Knights played Maryland of the mighty Big Ten and whipped them by four touchdowns. The Terps were 4-8, but it was still a G5 over a P5.
And there was that whole Auburn thing, a 34-27 decision over the No. 7 team in the CFP.
It was a matchup won by the better team.
“It looked like a conscious effort to me to make sure that they didn’t have a problem if they put us too high and a couple teams ahead of us lost,” Frost said of the Selection Committee’s rankings. “And oh, no, now we have to put them in a playoff. But we just beat a team that beat two playoff teams and lost to another one (Clemson) by six points and we beat them by seven.
“And Auburn is a great team. I’m not taking anything away from them. I give them a ton of credit. But these guys deserve everything they get, and they deserve more credit from the Committee than what they got.”
Again, an eight-team playoff wouldn’t have solved the problem because the field would be populated by five Power 5 champions and three Power 5 wildcards.
And an expansion to 16 teams probably won’t happen.
So we have what we have – and what we have are people in a room selecting playoff participants based on plenty of subjective criteria.
As I’ve said over and over again, this is not so much a playoff as it is an invitational.
And a great team like UCF was never going to get invited, despite the fact they did what no other team could this season.
And that’s a shame.
“Like Coach already told us, only thing we can keep doing is winning games,” Griffin said. “And I don’t think we have any more games left to win.”