AAC commish says UCF 'could have won' the College Football Playoff

American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco kept the UCF-national championship debate alive. (AP Photo/Stew Milne, File)

Even with the 2018 season right around the corner, the debate about Central Florida and its 2017 national title claim rages on.

At the American Athletic Conference Media Days Tuesday morning, AAC commissioner Mike Aresco was steadfast in his support of UCF, which proclaimed itself as the 2017 national champions after an undefeated regular season, an AAC title and a win over Auburn in the Peach Bowl.

Aresco was not bashful in his praise for UCF.

Aresco: UCF ‘have a right’ to claim a national championship

Despite its undefeated record, UCF was left well outside the four-team College Football Playoff field. As the top-ranked team from the Group of Five conferences, the Knights landed an invitation to a CFP-affiliated bowl, the Peach Bowl, to play SEC runner-up Auburn. UCF took care of the Tigers, 34-27, and sparked an offseason-long debate about claiming national championships.

Aresco wasn’t going to let the debate die.

“I salute the UCF Knights on their great undefeated season, and on the national championship that they have a right to claim,” he said Tuesday in Newport, Rhode Island. “They finished No. 1 in the Colley Computer Index, and many schools over the years, including Alabama, have claimed national championships based on such metrics.

“We congratulate the Alabama Crimson Tide and Nick Saban on their CFP title and we respect the CFP process, we are part of it. But that does not mean that we cannot celebrate our UCF Knights. They have become a national brand and have helped our conference become a national brand.”

Aresco was making a point about the AAC’s place in college football

In congratulating UCF, Aresco was making a larger point about the hierarchy of college football. He believes UCF should have had a shot to compete for a CFP title, but the AAC’s status outside the Power Five, or “autonomy five,” as Aresco termed it,” makes that pretty unfeasible. UCF’s run is evidence of that.

“This is not an issue of war and peace. UCF and its fans and followers around the country can enjoy this. But a larger point can also be made, that this UCF team deserved a shot at the national championship and could have won it,” Aresco said. “Our best teams, which were New Year’s Bowl winners, UCF in 2014 and 2017, and Houston in 2015, could have beaten anyone in the country. The same can be said of some of our other strong teams.”

Aresco has continually argued that the AAC should be included in a “Power 6.” Without that distinction, he sees AAC teams “getting slighted” in the national conversation.

“I fervently hope that UCF’s 2017 performance, and the performances of so many of our teams over our five-year history, convinces the CFP Selection Committee to take a closer look and to evaluate us differently. Our league is very good, very underrated despite our success, and there is no question that the G5 tag has had a lot to do with it,” Aresco said.

“You’ve heard a lot about the Power 6, or P6 as we refer to it in shorthand, and I have said that it is no longer a media or promotional campaign, it is reality. This conference has proven time and again that it belongs in the so-called power group.”

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