The Most Important Game of Bowl Season
By Ryne Blanton
The most important game of the college football bowl season? Not the Allstate Sugar Bowl between #1 Clemson and #4 Alabama, two college football playoff powerhouses. Not #2 Oklahoma and #3 Georgia, featuring one of the most controversial players in Baker Mayfield. The most important game of the college football bowl season is the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, between #12 Central Florida and #7 Auburn. This game will have the most influence on the future of the college football playoff.
Central Florida comes into the Peach Bowl with a high octane offense, and the possible head coach of the year in Scott Frost. The Knights are coming off of a 62-55 victory over the Memphis Tigers in the AAC Championship game. While I have been optimistic about UCF’s chances against some of the top teams in the nation, their lack of defense in this game has given me some doubts. But their offense can keep them in any game. With Scott Frost staying to coach this game, they will have a chance against a tough Auburn team. In an era of head coaches leaving schools early for new jobs, Frost staying to coach the Peach Bowl should give players some extra motivation.
Auburn will arrive back in Atlanta after a tough loss to Georgia in the SEC Championship game at Mercedez-Benz Stadium. Once looking like the hottest team in college football, the Tigers couldn’t finish the season with a spot in the playoff. They now look to bounce back in the same place where they lost the SEC Championship. The good news is the Tigers will still have head coach Gus Malzahn leading the team, after signing a new long term contract with Auburn. Kerryon Johnson will also have time to rest, and hopefully be back to 100% for the game.
So why is this game so important? The argument for an eight-team playoff has been as relevant as ever this year. Teams such as Ohio State, USC, and UCF all can make cases for competing for a National Championship. A win for UCF over Auburn would make the best case for an eight-team playoff. Auburn has victories over two of the teams in the playoff, #3 Georgia and #4 Alabama. Add to that a one-score loss to Clemson, and they have proved to be able to compete with anyone in the nation. A win for UCF would mean, at the very least, that an undefeated Group of 5 champion should have a chance at a National Championship.
The Peach Bowl will also help with another question surrounding the playoffs. If the playoff goes to eight teams, should any three-loss team get in? With the top twelve teams only consisting of one three-loss team, how would they get in over any team with just two losses? Auburn has a chance to prove that they are still one of the top teams in the country with a win. But a loss could mean three-loss teams having no chance at a national championship in the future.
For any of this to be relevant, the playoff obviously has to expand. But with two of the teams left out this year being Ohio State and USC, it is hard to believe that the NCAA will continue to leave all of that money out on the table.
I, for one, believe that any undefeated team in college football should have a chance to prove themselves as the best. This Central Florida team has a chance to give those teams a chance for years to come. But a close loss to Auburn can at least gain enough respect to reconsider the playoff. And a win for Auburn? That would simply mean a powerhouse SEC program did what they were supposed to do, beat a smaller school in SEC territory, and reassure everyone that they are still a top team in the nation.