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Nebraska Football

Hot Reads: How Will UCF's Title Be Remembered?

January 11, 2018
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I just re-read Scott Frost’s bio at Huskers.com. It includes all of the national coach-of-the-year awards he’s won this season – including the one he won last night – but no mention of his national championship.

I’m kidding. Sort of. UCF’s claim to the national championship has made for good talk-radio and column fodder here at the start of 2018, but nobody’s taking it that seriously, right? For the uninvested (i.e. non-UCF fans), it’s just fun to watch the team from the wrong side of the tracks (metaphorically, of course, Orlando’s fine) with a coach who isn’t afraid to say exactly what he thinks, hop the wall that surrounds Power 5 Paradise Village, walk right up to Alabama’s mansion with all of its statues and crystal footballs and scream, “You think you’re better than us?”

While this football version of the first verse of “Friends in Low Places” is plenty of fun, the Knights did finish No. 1 in at least one set of rankings, the Colley Matrix, a computer-based system that was once part of the BCS formula.

And as Jason Kirk of SB Nation notes, plenty of programs have claimed national titles based on one lonely No. 1 ranking:

Alabama’s ludicrous 1941 claim is literally based on one man’s opinion. Ohio State calls itself 1970’s champion despite the only selector to have the Buckeyes No. 1, the National Football Foundation, also having Texas No. 1. Texas A&M claims 1927 based on nothing but a computer that came around decades later. Kentucky claims 1950 based solely on the same formula. USC’s 1939 claim is at least based on a mathematical formula that was around at the time, though it was still only one selector. And so on and so on.

Per the NCAA Record Book, 53 teams, not including UCF, have been named a national champion by a single selector in the AP poll era (1936-present). It’s happened to Nebraska five times: 1980, 1981, 1982, 1984, 1993. 

Here’s where this gets interesting for me. Let’s say Huskers.com did mention the title claim as fact. “In his second year at UCF, Frost led the Knights to a 13-0 record and a national championship,” something like that. It would be a bold statement, maybe even a news-making one. It’s one thing for UCF to go all in on this with the parade and the banner in the stadium and all of that. It’s another for Nebraska (or any other school) to acknowledge it. Nebraska could do this, but it's easier not to.

But what will be the view 30 years from now? The claimed national championship game is a strange one. When we say that Alabama has 17 national titles, that number includes one single-selector title (1941) but not two others (1975, 1977). With a program like the Tide, that 1941 title just becomes part of history. They have so many that it takes a real college football historian to say, "yeah, but that 1941 one is dubious." But for a program like Kentucky, which claims its one single-selector title in 1950 as its only national title, it’s largely viewed as invalid. The coach of that 1950 Kentucky team was Bear Bryant. His bio at the College Football Hall of Fame doesn’t include that title. Woody Hayes has a claim to five national titles, but his Hall of Fame bio only lists three and it’s too confusing to even try to unpack here in any succinct way.

Point is there’s no real science to this stuff. Which titles get claimed and which don’t is up to the individual schools, so do your thing UCF. Treat it like a part of history, and maybe it will become that. Though it does seem like the Knights will have better odds of validating the 2017 title if they can win a few more over the next 100 years or so.

As for Frost, he’ll need to win a few more titles to end up in the Hall of Fame anyway. If he does, it looks like 2017 won’t merit a mention.

This sport has plenty wrong with it, but it's also amazing.

The Grab Bag

  • ICYMI: Nebraska added a commit last night in junior college wide receiver Mike Williams. Greg Smith shared five thoughts on Williams here. (Premium)
  • Here's the backstory behind that UCF billboard in Tuscaloosa.
  • Bill Bender of The Sporting News poses 18 questions for the 2018 football season.
  • Interesting look at stats coaches may be overlooking based on an interview with the folks at SportsSource Analytics.

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