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A Georgia title would be hard to dispute, but UCF’s résumé vs. Bama’s would be an argument forever

Whoever wins Monday is the official champ. But let’s look ahead to the debate that’ll follow.

NCAA Football: Peach Bowl-Auburn vs Central Florida Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

College football’s national championship game is the one Alabama and Georgia will play Monday night in Atlanta. The Playoff means we’ll probably never again have a split national title in any of the major polls. Either the Tide or Dawgs will win all the marbles.

Of course, UCF is already claiming the title for itself.

The Knights capped a 13-0 season by beating Auburn in the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Day. Their AD claimed on the field moments later that they were national champions.

That wasn’t just talk. Even though UCF’s entire coaching staff left for Nebraska after the Peach Bowl, the Knights paid out national title bonuses. The program is holding an honest-to-god championship parade at Disney World on Monday, right before the Playoff National Championship.

UCF is within its rights to claim this title. College football’s history is littered with power conference programs that have staked similar claims, some of them with less justification than UCF. If you’re genuinely disturbed by UCF’s title claim, I urge you to find another outlet for your sadness.

For now, that title claim — while fun, good, and awkward for the people who set up the Playoff — is really just that.

If Georgia beats Bama, UCF’s claim remains a quirky piece of CFB history.

Minor detail: UCF will still have no losses, and Georgia will still have one. If you believe the country’s only unbeaten team should have the title no matter what, that’s chill. Dozens more schools could go back and claim old titles if they wanted to, based on that standard.

The Knights will have also beaten Auburn, which crushed Georgia one time. Do not ask what happened the second time Auburn played Georgia.

Otherwise, Georgia might have as many as six wins against teams in the final top 25. UCF will have at least two, though Memphis might hang around after losing its bowl game. Those are Playoff selection committee schedule-strength numbers. Going beyond basic numbers, you won’t find a strength-of-schedule measure that puts the Dawgs and Knights in the same vicinity. Some others, so far:

  • S&P+ strength of schedule rankings from SB Nation’s Bill Connelly says Bama’s faced the 10th-hardest schedule in the country, Georgia 16th, UCF 89th.
  • Sports-Reference’s Strength of Schedule ranking: Georgia 17, Alabama 34, UCF 75.
  • ESPN’s Strength of Record, which measures what an average top-25 team could’ve done against each team’s schedule: Georgia 1, Alabama 2, UCF 6.

13-0 is 13-0, but the Dawgs will have faced a way harder schedule, definitively avenged their only loss, roughly matched the quality of UCF’s win over Auburn with a win at Notre Dame, blown out a Mississippi State that’s about as good as UCF’s second-best win, and won the Playoff against Baker Mayfield and Nick Saban.

The Georgia-UCF tale of the tape, if Georgia beats Alabama

Metric Georgia UCF
Metric Georgia UCF
Record 14-1 13-0
Best win Alabama Auburn
Second best win Oklahoma USF
Third best win Auburn Memphis x2
vs. .500 teams 9-1 8-0
Avg. score vs. FBS* 38.8-15.8 45.8-24.6
Avg. score vs. Power 5* 37.7-16.1, 11 games 36.0-18.5, 2 games
Avg. score vs. Group of 5 31-10, 1 game 48.2-25.9, 10 games
S&P+ rank* 3 7
S&P+ schedule rank* 10 89
Strength of Record* 1 6
* Doesn’t factor in a national title result.

The brief overlap in level of competition looks good for UCF. The Knights crushed the Power 5’s Maryland and beat Auburn by a touchdown, while Georgia was good but didn’t have huge numbers in a win over Sun Belt co-champ Appalachian State. But Georgia has far better wins and an infinitely better strength of schedule.

But if Bama wins, UCF’s argument becomes a lot stronger.

Here are some things UCF will have done that Bama didn’t:

  • Won a division
  • Won a conference
  • Gone 1-0 against Auburn instead of going 0-1 against Auburn
  • Avoided losing any games

The Tide will be 13-1 to UCF’s 13-0. Their schedule strength will have been much stronger. They’ll have 10 wins against bowl teams (counting .500-plus Ole Miss), two more than UCF. They’ll have four wins against the final top 25, as long as LSU doesn’t fall out in the final ranking and Fresno State doesn’t sneak in. UCF will have between two and four.

The Alabama-UCF tale of the tape, if Bama beats Georgia

Metric Alabama UCF
Metric Alabama UCF
Record 13-1 13-0
Best win Georgia Auburn
Second best win Clemson USF
Third best win LSU Memphis x2
vs. .500 teams 9-1 8-0
Avg. score vs. FBS* 36.4-12 45.8-24.6
Avg. score vs. Power 5* 35.5-11.1, 10 games 36.0-18.5, 2 games
Avg. score vs. Group of 5 41-16.5, 2 games 48.2-25.9, 10 games
S&P+ rank* 1 7
S&P+ schedule rank* 16 89
Strength of Record* 2 6
* Doesn’t factor in a national title result.

The Tide will have won the Playoff. They’ll have beaten the defending champions and a terrifying Kirby Smart defense with a bunch of five-stars on offense. Their semifinal win against Clemson is better than any of UCF’s wins. So would be their title-game win against Georgia.

If Alabama wins, the Tide would be the totally justifiable national champion, but UCF fans would have all the ammunition they need to argue about that title.

That’s fine! There’s nothing more college football than arguing forever about exactly this topic.