No playoff, no problem: Unbeaten UCF is out to prove it can play with anyone

UCF finished the season as the only undefeated FBS team in the country and the highest-ranked team from a Group of 5 conference in the four years of the College Football Playoff.

And the Knights are not ranked in the top 10 of the final rankings.

While a No. 12 ranking and an appearance in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl against No. 7 Auburn is an impressive accomplishment and sets a new standard, it's also somewhat of a backhanded compliment in the eyes of those who argue that an undefeated season should mean more.

How, they argue, can this be the ceiling for an undefeated team, one that finished as the highest-scoring in the country?

"I think we definitely should be ranked higher, but that to me has not much to do with how we view our season," UCF athletic director Danny White said.

The matchup against the SEC runner-up Tigers is another opportunity for the Group of 5 to further raise its profile with a marquee win against a top-10 opponent. A win would serve as a validation for the American Athletic Conference and other Group of 5 hopefuls in future seasons.

"Everything shouldn't hang on this game," UCF coach Scott Frost said. "But I understand how important this game is for Group of 5 teams in the future."

American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco said he can understand UCF not finishing in the top four, but wishes the committee would consider the league's past bowl wins and nonconference wins against Power 5 opponents for more perspective as to how it measures up against them. He pointed to Temple's 2015 win over Penn State, Houston's win over Florida State in the 2015 Peach Bowl, and Memphis' win over Ole Miss in 2015.

"I just think we're underappreciated as a conference," Aresco said. "... We just have to keep at it and gain more respect from the committee for our strength. If you're the committee, my own feeling has been, a league as young as ours, you sort of have to look at the five-year period to see what we've done and see how competitive we are. Otherwise how do you know how competitive we are from year to year?"

This is a familiar question in the playoff era and one that has not been answered to the satisfaction of teams from the Group of 5. It's not so much about making the top four, but the feeling that leagues such as the AAC are not being properly valued. The glass ceiling has been set, much to the detriment of teams like UCF.

The Knights' biggest downfall this year was not its conference affiliation. It was the fact it played only one ranked opponent all season -- No. 20 Memphis in the AAC title game. Also, one of its two games against a Power 5 opponent (Georgia Tech) was canceled because of Hurricane Irma.

"I said all along that the thing that was holding Central Florida back, so to speak, was they had not been as challenged with their nonconference schedule, and their schedule overall, as teams right above them and right below them," committee chair Kirby Hocutt said on Selection Day.

At some point this offseason, White said, he plans to reach out to Hocutt, also the athletic director at Texas Tech, to talk more about the process and the Group of 5's place in the playoff. Until then, he's working on future schedules, which currently include Pitt and North Carolina in 2018, and hosting Stanford in 2019.

"I'm hoping that even being [No.] 12 sets the tone for future years, because we're expecting to grow our program," White said. "We've got a really young team. We'll be really good next year as well."