Column: UCF over Alabama … would you bet your life?


By David Whitley - Orlando Sentinel



Alabama beat Georgia on Monday night, meaning we can now move to the final phase of our Who’s-the-Real-National-Champion debate.

UCF vs. Alabama — who would win?

We know where Knights fans and Crimson Tide fans stand. We also know that the answer will never arrive until the teams play.

Since that game is currently scheduled for Never, we are left with the usual method of deciding such matters — statistics, arguing, name-calling and comparing the sizes of Nick Saban’s and Scott Frost’s nuclear buttons.

All of that will resolve nothing, of course. But if fans couldn’t channel their inner Stephen A. Smiths, the entire sports-industrial complex would collapse.

So, let the debate begin.

Alabama went 13-1 against a much tougher schedule. How much tougher?

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The analytics geeks at SB Nation said the Crimson Tide had the nation’s 10th-hardest schedule. They also said Knights faced the 89th-toughest schedule.

Sports Reference ranked Crimson Tide’s strength of schedule No. 34, and UCF’s No. 75.

The College Football Playoff committee was too busy playing with fidget spinners to look up UCF’s schedule.

“But we know they played Austin Peay. Or was it Austin Powers?” one member said. “Whatever. Anyone know where I put my drink?”

That’s fake-but-accurate news, since the committee obviously considers non-Power 5 teams as annoying mosquitoes to be swatted away. That rightly infuriates UCF, which does not care that the Crimson Tide beat big boys like Georgia, Clemson and LSU.

They lost to Auburn. The Knights did not.

“UCF beat Auburn. Auburn beat Georgia and Alabama. UCF did not lose. Therefore, the Knights have my No. 1 vote.”

So wrote Ryan Aber of The Oklahoman, one of four people who voted UCF No. 1 in the final AP poll.

The other 57 voters were not as impressed by UCF’s transitive win over the Tide, but it’s an excellent trump card UCF fans can toss out from here to eternity.

Bama fans will retort that Auburn didn’t care about the Peach Bowl. Or that Georgia beat Auburn, which beat Alabama, which beat Georgia, which proves the SEC is omnipotent and we should all face Tuscaloosa three times a day and pray to Lord Saban.

UCF fans will say Alabama couldn’t even win its own division, must less its own conference. And we haven’t even mentioned that Frost could probably bench-press Saban 15 times.

The tit-for-tatting among sports humans will never stop. So, let’s bring in the robots to figure it out.

The bots in this case are computer programs. PredictionMachine.com ran a simulated game 50,000 times and found that Alabama would win 91 percent of the time.

Of course, it also predicted Auburn would beat UCF 80.7 percent of the time.

It gets down to data. Garbage in, garbage out.

For all the salient data points, programmers can’t download factors like the heart of UCF linebacker Shaquem Griffin. Or UCF’s sense of destiny and how it feels it has arrived as a big-time school.

All of which is well and good, but does it mean UCF would beat Alabama?

In a way, I’m glad there’s no such game. It’s nice that Alabama can joyously clear out more trophy space and UCF can bask in its newfound glory.

Actually playing each other would ruin one very good story. And arguing about sports is always fun until someone loses an eye getting poked by a large foam finger.

Who’s No. 1 will forever remain a matter of opinion. But if you want to know what people really think, ask a simple question.

If you had to bet your life on the game, which team would you choose?

If UCF fans want to be around to enjoy their bright future, I’d wager they’d pick Alabama.

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By David Whitley

Orlando Sentinel