The UCF Knights capped off an undefeated season with a 34-27 win over No. 7 Auburn in the Peach Bowl on New Years Day. Since that win, UCF has gone as far as to proclaim themselves the 2017 College Football National Champion, complete with a parade at Disney World and a proclamation from the Governor of the Sunshine State himself.
Sure, a lot of teams in college football have staked the claim as national champions despite losing their bowl games and finishing with more than one loss. For example, the NCAA officially recognizes Alabama as the 1964 national champion despite losing their bowl game to Texas. That same year, Arkansas finished No. 2 in the final polls with an 11-0 record and win over Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl. While UCF is the only FBS team to finish with a perfect record as well as a conference champion, we now live in an entirely different era of college football-an era where we don’t have to rely on media rankings, human error and computers to settle on a champion. We now have an actual national championship game which tonight will feature No. 3 Georgia and No. 4 Alabama at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
UCF isn’t the first mid-major program to attempt to convince the nation that they reign supreme in college football (although they’ve taken it to more extremes than the others). Utah (2004,2008), Boise State (2006), and TCU (2010) have all finished their respective seasons undefeated only to be left out of a national championship game. It is true that in the span of college football’s history, the blue bloods (Ohio State, Alabama, Notre Dame, Michigan, etc) and Power Five teams with one or two losses get the benefit of the doubt over smaller programs with equally impressive records. Still, maybe UCF should channel their energy towards joining a tougher conference instead of trying use all of their resources to claim something that isn’t really there’s to claim.
All of that being said, since this topic has sparked a ton of debate in the last week and half, I decided to make an argument for another team- Johnny Majors’ 1985 Tennessee Volunteers.
The 1985 team did not have an overly impressive record. Although they had nine wins, they tied twice-once vs No. 10 UCLA in Pasadena (26-26) to start the season, and again versus Georgia Tech at home (6-6). The Vols lone loss was on the road at the hands of No. 7 Florida, another team that was voted national champions by at least one NCAA-recognized poll at the end of the 1985 season.
While the two ties were a blight on Tennessee’s record, they managed to beat No. 1 Auburn and No. 15 Alabama as well as claim their first Southeastern Conference championship since 1969. This set up a New Years Day showdown between the 8th ranked Volunteers and No. 2 Miami in the Sugar Bowl.
Miami, who had just recently won their first national title in 1983, were riding a 10-game win streak after 35-23 loss to then-No.5 Florida to open the season. The Hurricanes had beaten Florida State, Notre Dame, and most importantly, 3rd ranked Oklahoma that season. All they had to do was defeat the SEC champion in the Sugar Bowl and hope that No. 1 Penn State fell to the Sooners in the Orange Bowl that same day to stake their claim as the 1985 national champions.
The Hurricanes were naturally the heavy favorites in the contest. Head Coach Jimmy Johnson, when making his argument to the media for why his team should be voted the recipients of the game’s highest honor, basically stated that his team should be the national champion if Penn State lost. In short, Tennessee wasn’t much of a threat to the seemingly invincible Hurricanes. The Miami team showed the same amount of disrespect when they shrugged off Tennessee’s captains at midfield for a pregame handshake.
Early on, it looked as if everyone outside of Knoxville was correct as to the outcome of the game. Miami quarterback Vinny Testaverde finished off the opening drive with a touchdown pass to Michael Irvin. Unfortunately for them, it would be only one of the few highlights that night.
The Hurricane’s quick start out of the gate didn’t intimidate the Vols. Quarterback Darryl Dickey led Tennessee to their first score in the 2nd quarter, a 6-yard touchdown toss to Jeff Smith to tie the game at 7. The defense forced a fumble that was recovered in the end zone to give Tennessee a 14-7 lead at the half. The game’s outcome was decided midway through the 3rd quarter, as Tennessee running back Jeff Powell went right up the middle for a 60-yard touchdown run to go ahead 28-7
Ironically, prior to kickoff, Testaverde said that the Tennessee defense would be ‘burned’ if they attempted to blitz all night. But blitz they did, as the Tennessee defense sacked Testaverde seven times and intercepted him three more, one of which put the exclamation point on Tennessee’s 35-7 route in the form of a Chris White interception returned for 68 yards to set up the Vols final touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Following the win, Head Coach Johnny Majors proclaimed “I’m not campaigning for the national championship, but I don’t think that there is a better football team in the country after the way we played tonight.”
The Vols would finish 4th in both major polls as Oklahoma defeated top ranked Penn State to claim the Orange Bowl and national championship with an 11-1 record.
Granted, Oklahoma has a pretty good claim to that 1985 national championship, but hey, if we used UCF’s logic of ‘beating the team that beat the national champion’, Tennessee should go ahead and hang an extra banner at Neyland this fall.