Nick Saban was on the sideline at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Jan. 8. The Alabama coach saw his team defeat Georgia 26-23 in overtime that night in the College Football Playoff championship game.
Saban feels that victory makes the Crimson Tide the reigning national champions in the NCAA's Football Bowl Subdivision. And most people agree with him, since that's basically what the CFP was created to do.
But some folks associated with the University of Central Florida claim their Knights are college football's true national champion. They were the only undefeated team in the FBS last season and one of their victories was over Auburn, a team that beat both participants in the CFP championship game.
But Saban told USA Today in an interview that ran Tuesday he's not buying those arguments.
"I guess anybody has the prerogative to claim anything. But self-proclaimed is not the same as actually earning it," Saban said. "And there's probably a significant number of people who don't respect people who make self-proclaimed sort of accolades for themselves."
While on the field celebrating Central Florida's 34-27 victory over Auburn in the Peach Bowl, athletic director Danny White proclaimed the Knights national champions. The words "National Champions" appear at the top of the team's verified Twitter account. The players were given national championship rings. The coaches received bonuses. The team was honored with a parade.
Saban has coached five Alabama teams to wins in either the Bowl Championship Series or CFP title games since 2009. Only one of those teams, the one from 2009, finished with a perfect record. So Saban can understand the pride Central Florida feels in that accomplishment.
But the Knights played only two Power 5 teams all year and were ranked No. 12 by the CFP committee going into bowl season. Only the top four teams make the playoffs, according to the system that has been in place since 2014.
"We've only had one undefeated team, and that is really hard to do," Saban said. "So I have a tremendous amount of respect for their team and what they were able to accomplish. … And they can make every claim that they should have been in the playoff. I get that. But we have a system, and it's not fair to the people who went through the system and earned their way playing really, really good teams — I mean really good teams — and really tough games. It's not quite fair to them for somebody else just to decide to [claim a national championship]."
He added: "It has no impact or significance on my feeling of what our team accomplished."