Alabama sent a delegation of 14 players to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis in March. UCF sent four, an impressive total for a team from outside the power conferences. Auburn, the only team to play both, sent seven.
Did I go up to a bunch of them and ask them about UCF’s national championship claim, on the heels of an undefeated Knights season that saw Alabama win the Playoff? You bet.
Here’s how players from Bama, UCF, and Auburn — the closest thing here to an arbiter on this matter, since the Tigers played both teams — answered similar questions about the Knights’ claim:
The Auburn guys
Running back Kerryon Johnson: “Who played Georgia in the national championship game? And it’s one team. They have the trophy. They went through the playoffs. They played Georgia, they won. It’s as simple as that. Shoot, any undefeated team could pop up and say, ‘We won the national championship.’ They didn’t play for it. That’s the bottom line.”
Running back Kamryn Pettway: “I have no opinion on that. Both teams are very good, but Alabama actually won the national championship. I feel like UCF could’ve had a chance at the playoffs, though. They should’ve had a chance at the playoffs, but I won’t make that call.”
Offensive lineman Braden Smith: “I don’t have any opinion on that. Unless you played in the national championship game, officially, Alabama won it. So that’s all I can put forward.”
Defensive back Carlton Davis: “I didn’t get a chance to play UCF, but in my opinion, Alabama earned that right to call themselves the national champions, and I feel like that’s how it should go.”
Defensive back Stephen Roberts: “The true national [champions] are Alabama. They got a ring this year. UCF can say they win the national championship, but when it all goes down to the end, Alabama got the trophy.”
Defensive back Jeff Holland: “I wouldn’t know. I played both teams. I think we’re gonna stay with it in the SEC.”
The tally: Alabama 4, Ambivalent But Probably Alabama 2, UCF 0
The UCF guys
Combine breakout star Shaquem Griffin: “I don’t think I have to say too much. You can look at the stats, look at the records, and it’ll tell itself. I mean, it’s so easy to say our record. It flows so easily. ‘13-0.’ You gotta say ‘12-1’ or something like that, it takes more out of you. When I have to put a different number like 1 or 2 in there, I get tired. ‘13-0,’ it just flows. I can say that all day.”
Cornerback Mike Hughes: “I think we deserve to have that respect. Not a lot of people respected what we did this season, and I’m not really sure what else we could’ve done to have people, you know, respect us. So yeah, I’m claiming national champs.”
Tight end Jordan Akins: “UCF all day, man. We played our hearts out. We came together as one, and at the end of the day, we look at it as, ‘We’re the national champs.’ We beat Auburn, who beat the national champs as well as UGA. We just wasn’t presented with the opportunity to play. I think if we were presented with the opportunity to play, it’d be a different national champion.”
Receiver Tre’Quan Smith: “A lot of guys gonna brag about it, that we’re claiming national championship. A lot of guys will be like, ‘Come on y’all, really?’ And, you know, yes. We are. We deserve it. Yes.”
The tally: UCF 4, Alabama 0
The Alabama guys
Defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick: “I’m happy for them. They can claim it. I have the rings and the trophies. So, it’s whatever.” Fitzpatrick added a few weeks later that UCF would have gotten “whooped up on” against Bama, prompting a response by Griffin:
Running back Bo Scarbrough: “Congratulations to them on whatever they think. I’m proud of them. They had a perfect season. They were the only team to go undefeated. I will let them celebrate. They’re gonna celebrate. Congrats to them on a perfect season that no one had this year. I think they should’ve got an opportunity in the Playoff, because they didn’t lose a game, unlike any of these teams that had one loss. I still think they should’ve had an opportunity. But it is what it is. They had no control over it.”
He thinks Alabama would’ve beaten the Knights had the teams come to blows in the Playoff.
Cornerback Levi Wallace: “UCF is a great team, and that’s all I can say on the subject.”
Cornerback Anthony Averett: “They went undefeated, right? I guess they’re undefeated. I would guess they feel like they deserve it. But I feel like Alabama, we the big dogs. You gotta beat us to get that title. So maybe next year or whatever, following. We’ll see what happens.”
Linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton: “I’m sure you can ask the world. Everyone knows who the real national champion is, and that’s home right in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.”
Defensive tackle Joshua Frazier: “I don’t really care about what they got going on. I just know we won it.”
Defensive end Da’Shawn Hand: “That ain’t got nothing to do with me. I know I got a ring. It’s back at school. I’m gonna get it when I go back for pro day, get my jewelry, and I’m gonna rock my national championship ring.”
The tally: This is Actually Funny To Us 7, UCF 0
Also, we’ve seen other Bama players making fun of UCF’s lack of trophy ...
These pictures are live! Where can i find one with y’all holding the trophy? https://t.co/eo4O6daenL— Damien Harris (@DHx34) January 29, 2018
... and this pretty much counts as a game agreement:
That’s what we’ve been saying... ♂️— UCF Football (@UCF_Football) January 28, 2018