The Champs are still undefeated.
I’m not talking Alabama, either, though the Crimson Tide, who are the 2017 College Football Playoff National Champions are unbeaten, unanimously ranked No. 1 in the playoff rankings and pummeling challengers like Daenerys Targaryen and Drogon incinerating the Lannister armies.
I’m talking the University of Central Florida. UCF. The Champs. Winners of 22 straight. and champions in the same way Rocky was before he defeated Apollo Creed: because someone told them they were the Champ.
In Rocky, it was Mick, played by the incomparable Burgess Meredith, who called Rocky “Champ” when in fact, he was no such thing. The truth didn’t matter to Mick. Tell Rocky he was “Champ” enough times and eventually, given one prize fight, he’d actually fight like he believed it.
Of course, Rocky lost the prize fight anyway, bested by the sleeker, faster, better Creed after 15 savage rounds.
For UCF, the role of Mick is played by Athletic Director Danny White.
It was White, after all, who crowned UCF champs on the basis, I guess, of the transitive property. And maybe it’s unfair to compare UCF to Balboa, at least the Rocky we meet in the first film. After all, UCF won their only prize fight, a Peach Bowl “W” over an Auburn team that was the SEC West Champ.
For that, White went all “Mick” and called UCF “The Champs,” a claim his head coach Scott Frost believed with such conviction that he left before the victory parade. (Of course, the Knights had a parade! You can’t be champs without a parade!)
A year later, the Knights still haven’t lost but find themselves ranked only No. 11 in the College Football Playoff rankings. This, their passionate supporters will point out, is a college football media conspiracy, led primarily by the journalists who mostly cover the big bad SEC.
Sure, UCF’s best win is either a 52-40 shootout victory over a 6-4 Temple (yes, Temple) or a 45-14 rout of an unranked 6-4 Pittsburgh team on the verge of winning an abysmal ACC Coastal, but haven’t you heard? It’s a conspiracy, Pawwwwllll.
After all, UCF is the Champ.
I’ve seen the flags. I’ve seen the legislation for UCF “national champions” license plates. I’ve seen the T-shirts and the hats. It’s all very surreal — very — what’s the word… Florida.
To be fair, the Knights are the reigning Peach Bowl Champs. They are the reigning American Champs, too.
They are also unbeaten, which might afford them the chance to defend their Peach Bowl championship.
In fact, despite the grand conspiracy keeping them out of the College Football Playoff that has nothing to do with their resume simply not being good enough, three major media outlets (SDS, ESPN, SB Nation) have the Knights returning to the New Year’s 6 and the Peach Bowl. Three others (CBS, SI, The Athletic), ship UCF to the Fiesta Bowl (another bowl game they’ve won recently). While it is surprising to see the Knights slotted in such elite bowl games given the sweeping conspiracy to prevent them from proving their excellence on a national stage, here is UCF, defying the odds.
Even better, at least three of those outlets (SDS, SB Nation and CBS) have the Knights facing Florida in a New Year’s 6 game.
Finally, once and for all, UCF can prove that there is a Big 4 in Florida college football, not a Big 3.
Finally, the Rocky Balboas of Orlando can escape from the concrete heat locker morass of Orlando and do what Rodney Dangerfield never could, “get some respect” in one 60-minute beatdown of the Gators.
One game to decide it once and for all.
Top-10 enrollment trounces Top-10 Public.
AAC whips the SEC.
Knights crowned State Champs.
Danny White claims a second national title.
Imagine the parade.
It’s a dream scenario or a nightmare scenario, depending on your allegiance.
For the Knights, it’s a game metrics say they should win. They are ranked 7th in S&P+ rankings and have a higher Sagarin rating than Florida (22 in S&P+) as well. The quarterback battle is McKenzie Milton vs. Feleipe Franks, a classic mismatch. The Knights won’t lack motivation, playing against a program that by and large didn’t recruit any of them. Their fans will travel and treat this game like a Super Bowl.
Florida’s advantages are small.
Yes, the Gators have a strong rushing offense and UCF is woeful against the run, ranking 105th nationally. But UCF’s defensive coordinator is former Florida interim head coach Randy Shannon, and you can bet Randy will know the weaknesses of Florida’s personnel.
Florida’s fans are notoriously fickle about traveling for non-championship games, which could play a role if Florida is sent to the Fiesta Bowl and not Gator-alumni heavy Atlanta.
No, Florida shouldn’t need motivation as a New Year’s 6 Bowl would be the biggest bowl game for the program since they were flattened by Charlie Strong and Louisville in the 2012 Sugar Bowl. But there’s always the risk they’ll take a program like UCF lightly. And for Florida, a victory won’t do much other than mean Florida won a game folks expected them to win. A victory for UCF would mean so much more, especially in-state, where UCF continues to try to convince elite talent it is a player nationally vis-à-vis the Big 3 of Florida, FSU and Miami.
From a selfish standpoint though, this game is a no-brainer.
If the Gators take care of business against Idaho and Florida State, let’s hope the committee gets this right and makes this game happen.
At present, Florida’s bowl projections are all over the place: from the Belk Bowl (ESPN) to the Fiesta (CBS).
There’s only one that will garner national attention though, and it’s the one the people should want.
Florida and UCF in Atlanta on Dec. 29.
The Gators and the Champs.
Winner gets to run UCF Twitter for a week.