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Alabama beat Georgia in overtime to win the College Football Playoff's national championship. UCF athleticsdirector Danny White said the idea of claiming a crown, too, sprouted from his original proclamation on the field after beating Auburn in the Peach Bowl ("National champs. Undefeated!"), then "grew organically" into a celebration that included national championship bonuses paid to coaches, national championship rings for players and signage at Spectrum Stadium in Orlando: "2017 NATIONAL CHAMPIONS."

If it has been a source of pride for the Knights and their fans, it has been a source of amusement for many around college football ... and a source of irritation for some in Alabama. Saban seems to fall somewhere between bemused and mildly annoyed.

"If you honor and respect the system that we have, (despite) some of the imperfections that you understand that the system has, then you wouldn't do something out of respect for the system that we have," Saban told USA TODAY. "I guess anybody has the prerogative to claim anything. But self-proclaimed is not the same as actually earning it. And there's probably a significant number of people who don't respect people who make self-proclaimed sort of accolades for themselves."

In Auburn, UCF beat a team that had beaten both Alabama and Georgia during the regular season. And the Knights and their fans point to the Colley Matrix, a computer system that was once part of the Bowl Championship Series formula, which had the Knights No. 1 in its final rankings. But former UCF coach Scott Frost, now at Nebraska, expressed reservations with the national championship claims.

"All I'll say," Frost told USA TODAY this month, "is if we had stayed there, I would have had a hard time getting behind it."

He added: "At the end of the day, the Playoff system is that the national champion is the team that wins the Playoff."

But that's part of White's argument -- that UCF didn't have a legitimate shot at advancing to the College Football Playoff. And Frost agreed, contending the Playoff's selection committee underrated the Knights in every weekly ranking. UCF was ranked No. 18 in the first rankings; in the final Top 25, UCF was No. 12. Frost called the ranking "almost criminal." White called the Playoff "a flawed system."

Alabama, which finished 12-1, didn't win the SEC West but was chosen for the four-team bracket instead of Big Ten champion Ohio State, which had two losses. Of the five national championships won by Alabama in the last nine seasons (three BCS, two Playoff), Saban noted only the 2009 team finished unbeaten. (His 2003 LSU team, which won the BCS title, wasn't undefeated, either.)

"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)."

Saban paused, then continued.

"It has no impact or significance on my feeling of what our team accomplished," he said. "I mean, I'm so proud of the adversity they overcame, the togetherness that they had to have, the work that they put in."

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May 16, 2018


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