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Meet the Twitter soldiers on the front lines of defending UCF’s championship claim

UCF’s social media team took the lead in claiming a national championship. Fans took it from there. Let’s talk to both.

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NCAA Football: American Athletic Conference Championship-Memphis at Central Florida Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports

During the final seconds of UCF’s win over Auburn in the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Day, Eric DeSalvo worked his way onto the field at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. He had to weave through traffic as QB McKenzie Milton knelt out the clock on an unbeaten season.

DeSalvo (job title: “Assistant AD, #Content”) had the keys to the athletic department’s Twitter account. Minutes after the game, he happened upon his boss, AD Danny White. DeSalvo pointed his phone at White, who said three words: “National champs. Undefeated.”

DeSalvo pressed Tweet and started an internet war.

The Knights had planned to mount some kind of national championship campaign if they won the Peach Bowl, but they weren’t sure how it would look until White decided for them.

“It was the ultimate mic-drop move,” DeSalvo says.

College football was meant for arguing, which means it was meant for Twitter. The sport has almost never had a way to get everyone to agree on a champion, so even figuring out an all-time consensus list is a big project. Lots of teams have just up and decided they’re the champs, with their fans following along.

But almost all of those claims were before the internet and way before social media.

Since DeSalvo’s tweet, an overachieving Twitter army has backed up the claim.

You’ll find UCF hype men in the mentions underneath all kinds of tweets, whether they’re from actual UCF fans or not. This military takes in anyone who wants to serve.

The three easiest spots on Twitter to find this sort of UCF hollerin’ are:

1. After any tweet by Alabama about how the Tide won the 2017 title.

2. After any tweet by a media outlet that references any kind of championship in any sport.

(Fair point.)

3. All up and down the timelines of any accounts like these:

The Knights averaged about 37,000 fans at their home games last year, with stadium capacity around 44,000. The fanbase isn’t especially big.

But Extremely Vocal UCF Fan is now a major part of the college football internet ecosystem, along with Generic ROLL TIDE Dude and Iowa Fan Who’s Both Mad At Kirk Ferentz And Mad You’re Disrespecting Kirk Ferentz. Here’s an example:

These are all fake tweets I made for an entirely different post, but you thought it was all real, because it usually is.

UCF’s armada of keyboard warriors is not the first to take up the cause of postseason justice.

The Playoff has only been around to disrespect mid-majors for four years, with the BCS getting sued over this issue in the previous era. Past teams like Boise State and Houston had their days online, infuriated en masse about getting left out of the title picture and popping up in every comment section.

This time is different. Mainly, it’s because Knights fans have a mandate from their university — Utah didn’t publicly declare itself the 2008 champ, for example — and, even more importantly, a specific bear to poke.

NCAA Football: Central Florida at Temple
UCF with fans
Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

And Alabama’s the real reason UCF’s social media horde seems so much more relentless than previous mid-major armies have.

UCF’s official accounts haven’t gone directly after Bama. DeSalvo says “we believe they’re national champions as well.”

But once the Knights fired the starting gun with their own claim on the title, their fans got off to a race.

“It’s not like we really told them what to do or what to say,” DeSalvo says. “I think they just followed the lead of our tone, and our tone’s pretty bold. It can be aggressive at times. We’ve never attacked Alabama themselves through any of our tweets. I can’t speak for our fans, because I know they have.”

Everybody complains about the Playoff, and non-power teams have been complaining about the power structure since before the BCS began, but how many fans of spurned unbeatens spent months and months calling the current champ into question? Boise State fans said they should’ve gotten a shot in 2009; most didn’t go so far as to say Bama’s 2009 title shouldn’t have even counted.

Adding to that, Bama was a controversial pick for the Playoff to begin with, as it didn’t win the SEC West, let alone the SEC, and then continued its dynasty anyway. That put plenty of neutral fans around the country into undefeated UCF’s camp.

Making it even more contentious, the Tide are happy to punch down.

Yeah, any of the above exchanges might lead to some angry Tide fan on Twitter getting into a 76-tweet fight involving nine people. But players have taken notice, too.

Running back Damien Harris:

Defensive back Isaiah Buggs:

And the best part: Bama AD Greg Byrne definitely being not mad at all. In fact, Byrne is so unconcerned with UCF’s title claim that he taunted the Knights over an NIT basketball result months after football was over:

Nick Saban’s not on Twitter, but UCF’s title claim led him to take the closest thing he’s taken in years to a public shot at another team. He said the Knights didn’t “earn” the title and passive-aggressively suggested that there’s “probably a significant number of people who don’t respect” them for making it.

Plenty of Alabama players have been more relaxed about UCF’s claim. Running back Bo Scarbrough even thinks the Knights should’ve gotten a Playoff shot.

You can still watch Bama fans get angry about this, months after the fact.

This Tide fan has tweeted about UCF at least 24 times since January, for one of many examples.

Here’s another Bama fan who’s tweeted at least some 30 times about the Knights, the majority of them in the first few weeks after the claim and then tapering into the spring.

These are far from the only two Twitter commandos fighting for Bama’s national title. They’ve all realized the only way to fight fire emojis is with fire emojis.

“Let’s face it: Alabama is at the top of college football in this decade. In the last 10, 15 years, there’s been nobody better,” DeSalvo says. “Everybody knows that, our fans included. It’s them, and their fans, and fans of the SEC as well, not letting it go.”

The UCFers in this fight rail against the Playoff.

The man behind the @UCF_Hype account is named JJ. He’s a 40-year-old video game developer who graduated from UCF in 2000. He said the selection committee “slighting UCF’s achievement is what really inspired me.”

“There is no reason why any undefeated team playing Division 1 FBS Football shouldn’t be part of the playoff,” he wrote in a Twitter direct message, the preferred mode for most of the UCF hype tweeters I found, who were usually at work. “UCF did everything they could possibly do, and they weren’t allowed to compete in the playoff. The College Football Playoff isn’t a real playoff if only P5 teams are able to compete.”

The man behind @JobuCF is a 31-year-old middle school teacher named Kevin from the class of 2010.

“I always thought the way they decided the National Champions for College football was dumb, starting with the BCS,” he wrote. “It is almost impossible for any team to win unless they are in a ‘P5.’ This year it just was another example of not choosing a champion on the field and it was my school so that when I wanted to be more vocal.”

@KnightsFanTom, a guy named Tom, says he’s just in it to support the players.

“I’m not so sure ‘this platform’ [Twitter] is well suited for it,” he wrote to me. “people tend to get nasty with each other....my only motivation is to support these young men that are working hard on and off the field.”

JJ, @UCF_Hype, hopes “something as trivial as a few tweets” can make “lifelong” UCF fans.

“UCF has always been the little brother in Florida,” he said. “UF, FSU, and Miami, were winning National Championships when UCF wasn’t even in Division I FBS. UCF finally had a team that out performed every team in the state, and every team in the nation, and we weren’t allowed to participate in the ‘playoff.’”

Whether UCF Twitter is making a difference is a matter of perspective.

The Playoff will not change soon, at least not on the account of any dude on Twitter. As a new season begins, lots of people — including Scott Frost — have already moved on.

And on the college football internet, everyone’s already retreated to one of three corners:

  1. The title claim is in line with the sport’s weird history.
  2. The title claim is bullshit.
  3. It’s just fun to watch the world burn. (This is my corner. I like living in a world where I can write blog posts about a bunch of Nevada dentists sticking up for UCF.)

“Honestly most of the time it’s fighting against people who’s minds are not going to change,” Kevin/@JobuCF wrote to me. “I just want to maybe at least change a few minds or make people think.”

Maybe that will work. But this part of Kevin’s plan is already a raging success:

“Sometimes,” he wrote, “I will admit it’s to mess with Bama fans.”