Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Green: The Knights are the anti-heroes of college football

Photo Credit: Joe Murphy- Getty Images

By: Geno Green
Twitter: @TheGenoGreen

The sport of college football has primarily lived through the power conferences in terms of contenders for the national championship for decades.

However, just like in every other form in competition, an anti-hero is needed where fans can get behind despite being booked another way like Steve Austin’s rise to Stone Cold in the then-WWF in the 1990’s.

The University of Central Florida Knights are a fair comparison as they have continued to crash the party as a group of five school riding a 20-game win streak, highlighted by a 34-27 win in the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Day against the Auburn Tigers.

Even before the run started by then-coach Scott Frost and now under current coach Josh Heupel, the story goes back to 2013. In a time of transition, the Big East folded as a football conference as the American Athletic Conference got the remaining schools along with SMU, Houston, Temple, Memphis and UCF.

Behind the mighty arm of quarterback Blake Bortles, UCF made it to the Fiesta Bowl in the final season of the Bowl Championship Series and the only time when the AAC received an automatic bid to any of the major bowl games. The Golden Knights handled the Baylor Bears, 52-42 and appeared to be a mainstay in top-tier bowl games for seasons to come.

One problem, like Austin’s neck injury due to Owen Hart’s piledriver at WWF Summerslam in 1997, UCF’s hopes of being guaranteed a seat at the dinner table would be crushed as the College Football Playoff formed in 2014 with the Power Five conferences (Big Ten, ACC, SEC, Big 12, Pac-12) earning automatic bids for conference champions into the New Year’s Six bowl games (Rose, Fiesta, Orange, Cotton, Sugar, Peach) with two of those games serving as semifinal games, which left the AAC on the outside looking in.

The Golden Knights and Austin shared the thread of having to work from the bottom as afterthoughts only for fan bases to get behind them. Austin’s setback happened to have been the prior neck injury, which lingered and forced him out of action due to surgery in Nov. 1999.

As in any form of art, fans thrive on seeing comebacks and Austin’s would be no different as returned to the top of the WWF, while UCF’s took place last season, as it blasted past each and every opponent. Despite being the final undefeated team in the Football Bowl Subdivision, the CFP committee kept them out of the playoff as the Knights finished 12th in the rankings.

Despite its best efforts to silence another mid-major team, UCF knew the final standings would not change, but started to draw attention to the program as fans across the country emphasized and rallied behind. The Knights settled for a trip to the Peach Bowl in Atlanta and defeated the Auburn Tigers and finished 13-0.

The little engine could not be ignored any longer as the Knights stepped into the forefront of the college football world with a 13-0 finish and a claim as “undisputed national champions”. UCF should have been treated like the majority of mid-major schools as afterthoughts, but turned into the anti-heroes of the sport.

The Knights went as far as to hold a parade in honor of their self-proclaimed title at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., and even handed out championship rings to the players.

Most assumed the fairy tale would have ended there.

CFP executive director Bill Hancock mentioned in an interview with the Associated Press on Sept. 28 that Central Florida would get consideration for a spot in the sport’s final four.

The only issue is that Hancock used the same formula last season on UCF and once more could be shut out of the playoff even if it runs the table again at 12-0 as the only ranked team on the schedule is against rival South Florida on Nov. 23.

As great as college football’s product is on and off the field, the subjectivity of name brands has haunted the sport for decades and if you put a different sticker on with teams such as, Alabama, LSU and Michigan, UCF would likely have a better shot and could easily use its current 20-game winning streak as a rallying point.

If the Knights go undefeated in the regular season for the second straight season, then it deserves to be in the CFP.

That’s not on me to decide, but the 13-person committee. Only time will tell.