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Monday, May 20, 2019
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Enjoy College GameDay, UCF. This is as good as it should get

ESPN's College GameDay is going to UCF this weekend.

Great. Now the most delusional college football fan base in the country will become completely insufferable.

Well, good for you UCF. You can hold up signs. You can boo Kirk Herbstreit. You can cheer Lee Corso when he puts on your Knights headgear.

For one day, we will talk about how you've built a nice little program over there in Orlando. You can celebrate your undefeated streak and wear your homemade national championship T-shirts. You can brag about being in the spotlight for the past year.

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Then Saturday night, you can beat up on Cincinnati, hold you index fingers in the air, proclaim you're No. 1 and chant, "We want Bama.'' And we'll all smile along with you and tousle your hair.

And then we'll expect to you scoot on back to the kiddie pool and let the rest of the big boys fight for the national championship.

Sorry, UCF, that doesn't include you.

What UCF has done over the past 15 months is certainly impressive. Going undefeated isn't easy. Then again, beating up on the teams UCF is beating up on isn't exactly hard either.

And that's the point.

UCF can't be taken seriously because it simply doesn't play a schedule worthy of competing for a national championship. Maybe it's not UCF's fault that the American Athletic Conference, which includes USF, isn't that good. But we also can't act like UCF storming through the AAC is the same as whipping up on a real conference.

Know what UCF's strength of schedule is? It's 104th, according to statistician Jeff Sagarin. The Knights haven't beaten one ranked team. Not one. Their best victory was against, I don't know, 6-4 Pitt maybe? Seriously, Pitt?

The Knights play Cincinnati Saturday night and the Bearcats are ranked at No. 24. But Cincinnati hasn't beaten anybody either.

That simply isn't a resume valid enough to compete for a national title. It's not the same as playing in the SEC or Big 10 or Pac-12 or Big 12 or even the ACC. My personal belief — and something I'm sure UCF fans would passionately disagree with — is UCF wouldn't even get to a bowl game if it played in the SEC. UCF would have a losing record if it played in the SEC, Big 10 or Big 12. It might get to .500 in the ACC or Pac-12.

Even UCF fans can't really argue that its schedule is soft. But their favorite argument is how UCF beat Auburn last season in the Peach Bowl — the same Auburn team that knocked off the national finalists in Alabama and Georgia.

Nice win, for sure. But there's a huge difference in getting up for winning one game against an elite opponent in a game that really didn't count for anything and having to navigate the week-to-week challenges of a real conference.

Real conferences offer very few gimme games. Sleepwalk through a game in a big-time conference and you will get beat. Just ask Ohio State when it traveled to Purdue. Just ask West Virginia when it went to Iowa State. Sleepwalk through an AAC game and you still can beat Memphis.

Let's take a random Power 5 team out there like Michigan. Along the way, Michigan has beaten Northwestern, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State. Those aren't even great teams, but put play them all in a month or so and it's a seriously hard obstacle course. Michigan will soon play Ohio State. Michigan's non-conference game was against Notre Dame.

Or take Georgia. The Bulldogs have played South Carolina, LSU, Florida, Kentucky, Auburn and still will play Georgia Tech and Alabama in the SEC title game. Georgia's easiest conference game — Vanderbilt — would probably be UCF's toughest test of the regular season.

Either way, what Michigan or Georgia or any Power 5 team must go through is certainly way more challenging than UCF playing the likes of Memphis, East Carolina, Temple and Navy.

So, does this mean I'm saying UCF can never play for a national title? Does this mean I'm saying a team that is not in a Power 5 conference can never play for national championship? Yes. That's exactly what I'm saying.

The solution is not adding more teams to the playoff so we can include a team such as UCF. If we're looking to name true national champs, the idea isn't to add more teams to the mix.

Anyway, even if we kept adding teams until UCF made it, UCF's powder puff regular-season schedule would still give it an advantage over the other Power 5 teams that have to grind its way to make the playoff cut. Why should UCF or some other small conference cruise into the playoffs?

Perhaps the fix is to have a separate national championship for the non-Power 5 conferences. I'm all for that. Let the big boys have their real national title and let the smaller schools play for their own championship.

Maybe you don't like that idea, but at least we wouldn't have to listen to UCF whine about not playing for a national championship that they don't deserve to win anyway.

In that scenario, we all win.

Contact Tom Jones at tjones@tampabay.com. Follow @tomwjones

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