Those poor, poor Big Ten backers. After the conference won its first seven bowl games, Michigan closed out the season with an abysmal fourth quarter and an Outback Bowl loss to South Carolina. It was the Big Ten’s only bowl loss.
To make matters worse for the conference that self-proclaims to be the best of all the conferences (an embarrassing topic of debate), the Southeastern Conference — the SEC — is now sending two teams to compete for the national championship.
Pretty much worst-case scenario for Big Ten Stans.
But as the rest of us sit here and anxiously wait for college football’s culminating event, the questions still mount aside from those of conference supremacy.
Sure, the arguments for Georgia and Alabama are aplenty, and at the end of the day, we’re probably watching the country’s two best teams duke it out for the title. At this point, those who lecture against the Nick Saban Alabama dynasty are the highest of haters. It’s the Tide vs. field for the foreseeable future — take the Tide.
Georgia suffered just one loss, to Auburn, which it avenged while winning the SEC Championship. Then, the Bulldogs knocked off Heisman winner Baker Mayfield and the really good Oklahoma Sooners in a double-overtime instant classic.
Yet, here I sit, scratching my head. The Georgia-OU game was awesome. Alabama Alabama’d its way past a Clemson team that beat it in the 2017 title game. But we’re missing somebody. One team misses out.
Sure, every year we get teams on the outside of the four-team playoff looking in. Conference champs, two-loss teams, even one-loss teams sometimes get sent to less-meaningful bowl games. But what about the University of Central Florida Knights?
The Knights didn’t lose a game during the regular season — the only team in the FBS to do so. Then, they went and took down No. 7-ranked Auburn in the Peach Bowl and looked mighty impressive in the process. Their coach, Scott Frost, stuck around to complete the undefeated season before he departs for Nebraska.
And the 13-0 UCF football team didn’t even get a chance to play for a national championship.
Did the Knights have the same grueling schedule as Georgia or Clemson? Not quite. Their only win over a Power-5 team came in Monday’s Peach Bowl. They did beat four ranked teams (Memphis twice, South Florida and Auburn) and had crazy scheduling issues as part of hurricane season attacking the Atlantic coast.
But how can we fault UCF for its strength of schedule? Why even have non-Power-5 programs if we’re never going to give them a shot at a championship? Why not just give them their own league and division (like we do with the FCS)?
Because the Knights play in a smaller conference, they get less funding. They get less publicity. Their tremendous coaches bolt for schools like Nebraska, where the support, paychecks, funding and resume-boost come in droves.
It could easily be argued that completing an undefeated season in a non-Power-5 conference is even more difficult. Yet, those teams aren’t rewarded.
The immediate and completely obvious solution (to everybody but the jamokes who make the decisions) is to expand the playoff. Eight teams — five Power-5 conference champs, best non-Power-5 finisher, two at-large. Play four games the week before New Year’s. Just picture yourself trapped in your couch for 15 hours watching back-to-back-to-back-to-back college football games.
Even without expansion, though, there has to be some thought of including undefeated non-Power-5 teams. Would Alabama have been out this year and replaced with UCF? Probably. Is Alabama, when it’s all said and done, better than UCF? Hard to say no. But Alabama didn’t win every single game. The Knights did. I’d be fine leaving the Tide out for UCF, and I’ve been riding shotgun on the Saban bandwagon for years.
If we’re not going to change the format or criteria, then change the name. “The Power-5 Football Playoff.” That’s what it is, and it’s unfair.