The college football season came to a close on Monday night with two teams celebrating a national title.
It was somewhat of a throwback to the good ol’ days of 2003 and early 1990s, when split national titles were all too common. Except this time, there’s really only one widely recognized champion.
Alabama won the College Football Playoff with a thrilling 26-23 overtime victory against Georgia. The Crimson Tide didn’t win their conference, or even their division, but at 13-1, they closed the season by winning the four-team CFP that is now used to crown the champion.
The Tide dominated No. 1 Clemson and then beat Georgia in its backyard, and winning the playoff carries a lot of weight. That’s why they got the No. 1 spot in the final ballot I submitted to the Associated Press on Monday night.
Going into Monday’s game, I knew I was going to put the winner in the No. 1 spot.
From there, the biggest question – in my head and around the country – centered around Central Florida (13-0), the only undefeated team in the country.
While Alabama and Georgia battled in Atlanta, UCF and its fans celebrated a “national title” that they believe they should have a claim to this season. Four Associated Press Top 25 voters agreed with them.
When it was all said and done, the Knights wound up No. 6 in the final AP rankings – still too high for many to accept.
UCF detractors bring up the Knights’ schedule, which wasn’t as strong as others. They bring up the fact that they weren’t in a Power 5 conference, and if they were, they wouldn’t have come close to 13-0. They bring up the fact that while, yeah, beating a really good Auburn team in the Peach Bowl was nice, Auburn surely didn’t care to play in that game.
I even saw people on Twitter say that UCF never would have had a chance against Alabama or Georgia (despite the fact that UCF beat the Auburn team that beat both Alabama and Georgia).
Was Georgia a legitimate No. 2 team for coming within a play or two of winning the title? Sure – and that’s where the Bulldogs landed in the final AP poll.
Were Oklahoma, Clemson and Ohio State better than the Knights? Maybe – and the final AP poll had all of them ahead of UCF.
All the arguments against UCF are good for debate, but they’re also speculative and a matter of opinion. We’ll never know how the Knights would have fared against the other top teams, but we do know they beat everyone on their schedule.
I settled the UCF question in my head several days before Monday’s title game. I made the decision that the winner of the title game would be No. 1 on my ballot and UCF would be No. 2.
Ultimately, it came down to this for me: We could spend hours and days debating who would beat who and the strength of schedules, etc., but the Knights did something that no other team did this year – or in any of the previous three years.
At 13-0, UCF is the only FBS team in the last four years to finish a season undefeated. I felt that should be rewarded.
Was UCF’s schedule as tough as Georgia’s? Probably not, but going undefeated, regardless of conference or schedule strength, is a remarkable accomplishment. Take all the weak-schedule, non-Power 5 teams you want over the past four years, and none of them beat every team on their schedule. Except this team.
It was a special year for UCF, and, in my opinion, outside of Alabama, nobody had a better year.
So, with that, here’s the final Top 25 ballot that I submitted on Monday night:
1. Alabama (13-1)
2. Central Florida (13-0)
3. Georgia (13-2)
4. Clemson (12-2)
5. Oklahoma (12-2)
6. Ohio State (12-2)
7. Wisconsin (13-1)
8. Penn State (11-2)
9. TCU (11-3)
10. USC (11-3)
11. Auburn (10-4)
12. Miami (10-3)
13. Notre Dame (10-3)
14. Northwestern (10-3)
15. Oklahoma State (10-3)
16. Michigan State (10-3)
17. Stanford (9-5)
18. LSU (9-4)
19. Washington (10-3)
20. Boise State (11-3)
21. Mississippi State (9-4)
22. South Carolina (9-4)
23. South Florida (10-2)
24. Memphis (10-3)
25. North Carolina State (9-4)
Contact staff writer Brian Howell at email@example.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.