College football delivered once again.
Alabama and Georgia did us proud.
Per ESPN, viewership of the national championship game’s main telecast drew 28.4 million viewers, the second-highest in title game history. Those teams gave college football the season finale it wanted, an overtime classic filled with twists and turns, from Nick Saban benching a quarterback who was 25-2 in his career to the freshman who replaced him throwing the championship-winning touchdown to a freshman receiver.
So the numbers are great, the games are exciting and attendance is solid despite the rising price of season tickets at the major programs.
It can get much better.
But before we get to that part, please join me in sending out a hearty congratulations to the 2017 national champions … the Central Florida Golden Knights.
You remember those Knights, the ones who went 12-0, led the nation in scoring at 48.2 points per game and beat Auburn in the Peach Bowl, guided by Coach of the Year Scott Frost. In case you missed it, Florida Gov. Rick Scott issued a proclamation that made no bones about the team he believed to be No. 1 despite its final No. 6 ranking.
“Florida is home to the country’s best college football, and this season, UCF proved to the world that they can beat any team,” he said in a statement. “Charge On.”
One day before Alabama’s magical overtime win in the official national title game, the Mouse hosted a parade attended by thousands at the Magic Kingdom.
Full disclosure: The statistician in me has a soft spot for UCF. It’s not a Power Five program, but the Knights were never given serious consideration by the College Football Playoff selection committee despite being the only undefeated team among 130 schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
“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 told ESPN.com. “And oh, no, now we have to put them in a playoff? But we just beat (Auburn, which) beat two playoff teams and lost to another one by six points, and we beat them by seven.”
With all due respect to Frost, one of the best young coaches in the business, give me Alabama or Georgia over the Knights if they played tomorrow. UCF’s strength of schedule was not on par with the teams that made it to the College Football Playoff’s final four, but the special season that culminated with wins over No. 20 Memphis and Auburn — the only team to beat both CFP finalists — underscores the need for a playoff upgrade.
An opinion is an opinion, but it’s much better when teams settle any disputes on the football field.
It’s time to expand.
Why not? Because the current format is geared to reward Power Five schools while others like Central Florida are left on the outside looking in.
Conversations like this would not be necessary if the field were changed from four to six teams. It wouldn’t eliminate the possibility of teams believing they should be included in the final rankings, but it would definitely make it less likely that an unbeaten would be left out. It’s still laughable that the committee didn’t give the Knights more consideration, a sentiment shared by Frost, who turned an 0-12 team into a 12-0 team.
As far as rankings go, there are 65 writers and broadcasters who vote in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. Four of them voted Central Florida as the national champion in their final vote, including Ryan Aber, who covers Oklahoma Sooners football for The Oklahoman.
“I’m generally not a fan of transitive property voting, but UCF being undefeated and beating Auburn — the team that beat both Alabama and Georgia — led me to my vote,” Aber said. “I struggled with it, but I would’ve voted that way in the regular season, so why should my final vote be different?”
Rarely are there more than a handful of elite college teams by Week 12, so six would be a nice number for expansion. Award five spots to the winners of the SEC, Pac-12, Big 12, ACC and Big Ten. The remaining spot could go to the Group of Five team most deserving of the spot. Award the top two seeds a first-round bye while 3 plays 6 and 4 plays 5 in the quarterfinals. The top seed would play the lowest remaining seed in the semifinals, with the finale being played on the third Monday in January, one week later than the current championship schedule.
If that’s not good enough, consider expanding to eight teams over three weeks.
It’s time. The game has gotten so big that accountability has to be everything. The playoff has been well received over the first four years, but the noticeable lack of consistency by the selection committee demands that more teams be included.
The game is great, but in this case, expansion equals improvement for college football.