UCF: Darriel Mack

Central Florida quarterback Darriel Mack Jr. (8) celebrates after scoring the go ahead touchdown against Memphis during the second half of the American Athletic Conference championship game, Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, in Orlando, Fla.

UCF is feeling like it gets no respect. No respect at all.

It is not in the Peach Bowl playing Florida.

It can not get Florida to play it home-and-home in football.

It is not in the College Football Playoff semifinal bowls, the Orange or the Cotton, where the Knights feel they should be rubbing shoulder pads with the game’s other unbeatens: Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame.

There is a great sense in Orlando that the system is trying to keep UCF down. And a great trip to a great bowl like the Fiesta to play LSU on New Year’s Day just does not seem to be cutting it.

Oh, the Rodney Dangerfield of it all.

The folks at UCF have a point — to a point. The CFP system is intended to stack the deck in favor of the teams from Power Five conferences. The best team from the so-called “Group of Five” conferences, like American Athletic Conference champion UCF has been the past two seasons, gets thrown the bone of a New Year’s Six bowl trip and is supposed to go away happy.

The folks at UCF are anything but happy. One gets the sense that if the Knights beat LSU they will slap another “we are the champions” sign up in their stadium as they did after finishing 13-0 last season. But this time accompanied by a very rude word directed at the CFP.

Maybe it is the LSU side that should be feeling disrespected. Kind of a reversal of fortune, because the Tigers are from the mighty Southeastern Conference and UCF is from the AAC.


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OK, let’s get this settled first: Yes, UCF is 12-0, but the Knights came nowhere close to snagging a CFP semifinal berth. That UCF finished No. 8 in the final CFP rankings, a record for a Group of Five team in the CFP era (the 12-0 Knights were No. 12 after the 2017 regular season) is a considerable achievement.

A big reason UCF is not in the Orange or Cotton? Strength of schedule. According to Jeff Sagarin’s ratings in USA Today, UCF’s strength of schedule ranked No. 89 (LSU’s strength of schedule, by comparison, is No. 5). Yes, the argument can be made, that until teams like Florida start giving UCF a chance to play — something that is in UCF’s best interests, not Florida’s, since the Gators already play Florida State every year — the Knights’ strength of schedule can not improve much. That said, the AAC is more of an anchor on UCF than anything else.

As for not being in the Peach Bowl, one Florida sportswriter went on about how Peach Bowl organizers were effusive in their praise of UCF and its fans and how much they would like to have the Knights back a second straight year. Just like LSU was in the Citrus Bowl the past two years.

Instead, UCF got shipped out to the desert like some misdirected Amazon package. Why?

First, bowl folks like the ones who run the Peach Bowl are exceptionally adept at whispering sweet nothings in the ears of athletic directors and coaches and school presidents. It’s all, “We love you guys! We’d love to have you back, of course! Have you lost weight since you were here last year?” kind of chit-chat.

The truth is, the Peach Bowl has already had the Group of Five champ twice in the first four years of the CFP (UCF in 2017 and Houston after the 2015 season). Though the deal is the Fiesta, Cotton and Peach have to rotate taking the Group of Five champ (the Sugar, Rose and Fiesta are contract bowls with specific conferences and do not have to take those teams unless in a semifinal), the Peach should not have had to take UCF two years in a row and a Group of Five team for the third time.

So UCF had to go to the Fiesta. The Sugar, Rose and Orange and Cotton were out. The CFP committee could have sent Florida to the Fiesta to play UCF but clearly did not want to take a chance on sending two Florida teams all the way across the country to play with fan bases strained by the travel expense. So LSU is in the Fiesta and Florida is in the Peach to play Michigan in a bowl for the third straight year.

It would have been nice for LSU to play Michigan for the first time in either bowl, but the combinations didn’t really work well.

None of it is ideal, but under the current format, this is what everyone got.

As for playing Florida (or rather not playing Florida) and where, UCF athletic director Danny White said he’s moved on. Maybe the Knights and Gators will get together somewhere down the road. Just not this year.

Hey, UCF, LSU knows how you feel when it comes to trying to work out scheduling wrinkles with Florida. At least you have that in common.

So back to reality. LSU and UCF will play in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1, and that’s it. Now comes a question of motivation. There was a lot of it last year, asking how geared up Auburn was to play UCF in a game that ended up a 34-27 Tigers loss.

Now, this time, the cleat may be on the other foot.


Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.​