Confetti and ticker tape fluttered to the field. Fireworks lit up the California night sky as the Clemson Tigers rejoiced in victory against the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Clemson will no doubt commemorate its triumph with diamond rings and parades, but if you ask me, there seems to be far too much hoopla surrounding a game that essentially decided third place.
The Clemson-Alabama game was billed as the national championship by the mainstream media, but real fans of the sport realize that the game was merely a formality. The real national championship was decided New Year’s Day when the LSU Tigers defeated the then-undefeated and reigning national champions, the UCF Knights.
That’s how college football works, right? Teams that feel left out are more than welcome to the rings and parades that the real winners earned the privilege to enjoy, right?
Obviously, no sane person would believe that LSU has any right to self-declare itself national champion this year. However, we’d be having a different conversation if the Knights would have defeated the Tigers in the Fiesta Bowl.
UCF would have had another parade, hung another banner and made more rings to fool the world into believing that their second-rate football program is the real champion, or at least deserving of a berth in the College Football Playoff.
I realize using an adjective like second-rate to describe UCF’s football program may seem a little harsh, but it also reflects the current reality of college football. Alabama and Clemson are at the peak of the football mountain, and there’s a steep drop before hitting the next tier of programs.
It’s evident that LSU’s program is not on the level of Alabama or Clemson, but it’s also clear that UCF isn’t exactly the powerhouse billed by its fans, coaches and players.
The Tigers defeated the Knights by a score of 40-32, seemingly a nail-biter until further investigation of the box score. LSU began the game without nine defensive players before losing two more during the game due to ejections. LSU relied on a makeshift defense that included Jontre Kirklin, a wide-receiver- turned-defensive-back, and held UCF to 250 yards of total offense and four scores totaling 25 points.
UCF fans were quick to point out that the Knights were without starting quarterback McKenzie Milton due to a late-season injury, but I find this to be a difficult excuse to make when the Tigers were playing with a defense filled by second and third-string players.
After all, LSU fans argued from the beginning that the Tiger backups were better than UCF starters, and their play certainly supports that claim.
Offensively, LSU racked up 555 yards of total offense behind the solid play of an offensive line that was manhandled by the national runner-up Crimson Tide earlier this season. I mention LSU’s offensive line’s performance in the Alabama game because it’s important to put UCF’s performance in perspective.
The Knights struggled to stop an offense that did not score on the Crimson Tide this year. UCF let second-and third-string defensive players stifle its offense, albeit an offense without a starting quarterback.
Championship teams don’t make excuses, though. They rise to the occasion and meet the challenge with a “next man up” mentality. Championship teams also embrace the opportunity to play quality opponents. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney called playing Alabama a “privilege.” Meanwhile, the Knights bully a weak American Athletic Conference while declining invitations from Florida to play a 2-for-1 series.
Until the Knights have a change of heart and start to embrace the privilege of playing stiffer competition outside of bowl games, I suggest we leave the delusions about their program in 2018.