UCF finished the 2017 season with an undefeated record, including a 34-27 win over Auburn in the Peach Bowl. However, SEC analyst and former Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy believes the Knights "would've been dusted" by the Tigers if the stakes were higher.
"If a national championship was on the line, Auburn would've played a whole heck of a lot better," McElroy said Monday on ESPNU Radio, per Mark Heim of AL.com. "Just go watch the effort. Talk to the coaches. They may not want to tell you that."
Auburn was in line for a spot in the College Football Playoffs until suffering a 28-7 loss to Georgia in the SEC Championship Game.
"Getting those guys ready to play just after they got their heart ripped out (in the SEC title game) is really difficult," McElroy added.
The Peach Bowl upset allowed UCF to finish 13-0, with a win over an Auburn team that beat both the eventual national champion, Alabama, and runner-up, Georgia. Even though the squad finished No. 6 in the final Associated Press poll, the school has claimed itself as the national champion of the 2017 season.
Per Andrea Adelson of ESPN, the team has unveiled a banner commemorating the title while also giving out rings to the players and staff.
While it's difficult to stop the Knights from celebrating the accomplishment, McElroy doesn't believe the team would've succeeded against any of the top major conference squads last season for a variety of reasons, via ESPNU Radio:
Aside from Auburn, UCF's only win over a Power 5 Conference opponent was against Maryland in September, a team that finished 4-8 and also lost its second quarterback of the year to injury in the first half against the Knights.
Conversely, Alabama's 13-1 run to a national title featured all but three games against Power 5 Conference opponents, including a 24-6 win over Clemson in the Sugar Bowl and a 26-23 overtime win over Georgia in the national championship game.
As good as UCF was last season, succeeding against one of the top teams in the country with a championship on the line might have been too much to handle.