Memo to Jeremy Foley: let’s bolster Florida’s non conference schedule

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Florida’s football schedule is something that always draws a ton of attention among Gator fans, particularly in the offseason. The schedule represents Florida’s path to a national championship, and along that path, fans and players get to have fun experiencing the traditions of various rivalries (World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, FSU rivalry, etc.) and landmark games. So Gator fans are always awaiting the latest news about future schedules. Who are we playing to open the season in five years? Are we going to play Miami again? When will we play a good non conference team again? And so on.

Unfortunately, there’s one problem with Florida’s schedule every year: the out of conference opponents not named Florida State are ridiculously easy. I get the sense that many Florida fans are cheated out of excitement by watching the Gators slaughter three different sacrificial lambs in a single season. And I want to change that. (See the end of the post for a prototype of what it could look like. Not now, though. Keep reading.)

The thing is, Jeremy Foley and I don’t see eye to eye on this. Florida plays FSU annually as a non conference opponent, eight SEC games and that’s about it in terms of excitement. (Yes, Florida is scheduled to play Michigan in the 2017 Cowboys Kickoff Classic. OK… that’s one instance.) Take 2015 for example. Florida’s other three out of conference games are against New Mexico State, East Carolina and Florida Atlantic. And last year’s schedule was no better, with Idaho, Eastern Michigan and Eastern Kentucky all agreeing to take six figure paychecks in exchange for six score beatings (or worse). That’s no fun. The college football season is short enough as it is. Teams are only given 12 regular season games. And because three of Florida’s twelve games are cupcakes, Gator fans are only given nine days of entertainment while other schools get ten or eleven.

The College Football Playoff is insistent on teams challenging themselves with tougher schedules. Meanwhile, Foley is insistent on playing seven games a year in the Swamp. But no team of respectable caliber would ever agree to take a visit to Gainesville without being guaranteed a return trip. Thus, Foley is left with no choice but to fill out his schedule with patsies. I have no problem with playing one or even two cupcake games in a given year, if only because it’s nice to play on cruise control and get a free win every now and then. Plus, it’s nice for the lower level schools to have a chance to come into an environment like the Swamp. It gives the players a once in a lifetime experience, and it could be a good recruiting opportunity for them.

But filling the schedule with patsies is ridiculous, and wrong for a number of reasons. It could come back to bite Florida should they be one of the last teams considered for a College Football Playoff. It doesn’t give Florida any real challenge, and robs them of an excellent chance to prepare for the SEC schedule with a solid opponent. And it’s a big letdown for the fans. Think about it. Why do we watch Gator football to begin with? The answer among the overwhelming majority of Gator fans has to be excitement, or entertainment, or fun, or something along those lines. Where’s the excitement and/or entertainment and/or fun in watching the Gators butcher three different lower level schools in a given year?

Right. There isn’t any.

There are a number of ways Foley could bolster the out of conference schedule. Below are some ideas on how to do so. Any one of them will do.

-Schedule Miami on a yearly basis

Description: Self explanatory. This isn’t the first time I’ve suggested this. I know, the Hurricanes aren’t exactly a powerhouse anymore. But c’mon, it’s Miami. There’s a deep, rich tradition between these two teams. Watching it suffer the same needless death the Texas-Texas A&M rivalry suffered is a damn shame.

-Why it’s a good idea: The Gators would be losing a home game every other year, but the flip side of that is that they would be playing a game every other year in south Florida. When you consider how many Gator fans live in and around Miami and would attend the game, it’s not a bad alternative to losing a home game. When you consider the insane amount of talent that resides in and around Miami and would attend the game, it’s just as good as a home game. And again… it’s a rivalry. Rivalries were meant to be played on the field, not on social media and message boards.

-Why it’s a bad idea: Miami has fallen off recently and they’re not what they used to be- in fact, they’ve fallen off to a Conference USA level. You know a program’s prestige is gone when they’re willing to take road trips to Florida International and Florida Atlantic. If Florida played Miami every year and the Canes continued to suck for another decade, the Gators would be losing a home game for a game that nobody really wants to see. Think of what happens when Florida travels to Vanderbilt every other year.

-Likelihood: Legitimate chance, but not a great one. Miami is the only team Jeremy Foley has been willing to schedule on a home and home basis in the 23 years he’s served as AD, so that’s a good sign. But he’s only scheduled two home and home series in that time span (2002 & 2003 and 2008 & 2013) and there are no future dates set. It may happen someday, but not before 2018 at the earliest.

Verdict: DO IT. I was playing Devil’s Advocate in the previous section. I don’t care how bad Miami is, I want to play them every year. Walloping the Hurricanes on a yearly basis would be a fantastic recruiting opportunity. Florida pretty much gets all the kids they want from that area anyway. But administering a beatdown on the field every year- half of which would be in these kids’ backyards- would make it even easier. Plus, Florida would get more media exposure for playing this rivalry game.

-Play in Kickoff Classics to begin the season

-Description: Florida’s playing Michigan in the Cowboys Kickoff Classic in 2017. That’s a start. Now let’s do it some more. Traditionally, there are four opening week neutral site kickoff games: the Cowboys Kickoff Classic (Dallas), the Texas Kickoff (Houston) and two Chik-Fil-A Kickoff Classic games (Atlanta). And in the event that two teams want to create their own kickoff special (2010 Kickoff in the Capital in Washington D.C. between Virginia Tech and Boise State), there can be more. Plenty of opportunities exist to play good teams in high profile kickoff games.

-Why it’s a good idea: Even the least appealing neutral site kickoff games get tons of views. That means big time exposure not just among fans, but recruits. High school kids dream of playing in NFL stadiums someday; why not make their dreams come true a few years earlier than they expected? On top of that, Florida gets a golden opportunity to recruit Georgia or Texas kids by playing in their backyards. And yes, neutral site games cost Florida a home game, but from a financial standpoint, it’s half a home game since each side would get half the tickets.

-Why it’s a bad idea: Atlanta is fine, but I’m wary of playing in Texas. Florida may get half the tickets, but it may not be so easy for the Gators to fill their allotment of ~35K in Houston or Arlington. Texas isn’t very easy to get to; it’s a 13 hour drive to Houston and a 15 hour drive to Arlington, while flying would almost certainly require changing planes in Atlanta or Charlotte. That’s compounded by the fact that relatively few Gator fans live in Texas. Depending on the opponent, there’s a good chance the Gators are going to be outnumbered.

-Likelihood: How Florida fares both in attendance and on the field against Michigan two years from now will go a long way in determining whether or not these kinds of games will happen again. But hey, at least we’ve got one of these on the docket.

-Verdict: I’m all for it, but do so with care. And always try to play in Atlanta before Texas, as Florida has built a much stronger recruiting pipeline in Georgia and North Carolina than Texas. What I don’t want to do is schedule a “neutral site” game against Oklahoma State in Dallas, or Texas in Houston, or any other opponent that would easily have more fans than Florida. There’s a right way to do neutral site games and a wrong way to do them, and as long as Jeremy Foley does it the right way (Michigan is the right way, for example), I’d love to see Florida participate in high profile Kickoff Classics.

-Schedule home and home series with other high profile teams

-Description: Anybody want to guess the last time Florida scheduled a home and home series with a team outside the state of Florida? The correct answer is 1984 and 1991 against Syracuse. Since then, Florida has glided by beating patsies and lower level schools, while other teams got bold and set up a pair of high profile showdowns with each other, one on their home field and the other on the other’s home field. Cases in point: Ohio State-USC, Oregon-Michigan, Georgia-Clemson, and many, many more.

-Why it’s a good idea: Same reason as playing Miami or playing kickoff games. Exposure. But times ten. These are the games kids dream about. If Florida were to set up home and homes with Oregon, Wisconsin and Texas, both ends of the home and home would almost certainly end up on a featured time slot on national television. Playing a game far away from home every few years would do wonders for the Gators’ out of state recruiting. And just imagine the week on campus leading up to paying one of those teams in the Swamp.

-Why it’s a bad idea: Depending on how good or bad Florida is in a given year, taking a road trip far from the friendly confines of the Swamp into a hostile environment could be asking to get buzz sawed, possibly in front of a gigantic television audience. It’s impossible to know this four or five years in advance, when these games are scheduled, but it’s always a possibility. In regards to out of conference opponents and the College Football Playoff: it’s better to beat good teams than bad teams, but it’s best to not lose. Period.

-Likelihood: As close to zero as possible without actually being zero. So, like, .00000000000001% chance this happens. Jeremy Foley does not like giving up home games, particularly when they result in losses the way both trips to Miami have during his tenure, so I don’t think he’s going to be too anxious to play any more road games. Then again, I never thought he would sign up to play Michigan in Dallas, either…

-Verdict: I’d love to see it happen as a fan, but I can’t see it happening as a realist. That’s the bottom line.

Let’s mix and match these three ideas over a six year span and see what it looks like. (Note: the SEC West opponents aside from LSU are actually Florida’s opponents in the next six years.)

Date Opponent Date Opponent Date Opponent
9/5 East Carolina 9/3 Oklahoma 9/2 vs. Michigan (DAL)
9/12 Miami 9/10 Troy 9/9 South Florida
9/19 @Kentucky 9/17 Kentucky 9/16 @Kentucky
9/26 Tennessee 9/24 @Tennessee 9/23 Tennessee
10/3 Mississippi 10/1 @Arkansas 9/30 Texas A&M
10/10 @Missouri 10/8 Missouri 10/7 @Missouri
10/17 @Louisiana State 10/15 Louisiana State 10/14 @Louisiana State
10/31 vs. Georgia (JAX) 10/29 vs. Georgia (JAX) 10/28 vs. Georgia (JAX)
11/7 Vanderbilt 11/5 @Vanderbilt 11/4 Vanderbilt
11/14 @South Carolina 11/12 South Carolina 11/11 @South Carolina
11/21 Florida Atlantic 11/19 North Texas 11/18 Idaho
11/28 Florida State 11/26 @Florida State 11/25 Florida State

 

Date Opponent Date Opponent Date Opponent
9/1 Colorado State 8/31 @Oklahoma 9/5 vs. Clemson (ATL)
9/8 @Miami 9/7 Florida A&M 9/12 Central Florida
9/15 Kentucky 9/14 @Kentucky 9/19 Kentucky
9/22 @Tennessee 9/21 Tennessee 9/26 @Tennessee
9/29 @Mississippi State 10/5 Auburn 10/3 @Mississippi
10/6 Missouri 10/12 @Missouri 10/10 Missouri
10/13 Louisiana State 10/19 @Louisiana State 10/17 Louisiana State
10/27 vs. Georgia (JAX) 11/2 vs. Georgia (JAX) 10/31 vs. Georgia (JAX)
11/3 @Vanderbilt 11/9 Vanderbilt 11/7 @Vanderbilt
11/10 South Carolina 11/16 @South Carolina 11/14 South Carolina
11/17 Massachusetts 11/23 Chattanooga 11/21 Georgia State
11/24 @Florida State 11/30 Florida State 11/28 @Florida State

 

Doesn’t that look doable- and awesome?

Look at those schedules. No one season has more than two cupcake games. Home and home series with Miami and Oklahoma, plus neutral site games against Michigan and Clemson. Six additional games against top tier programs, one per year. And in two of the six years, Foley gets his seven home games (and if Michigan were a home and home instead of neutral site, it would be seven home games in three of the six seasons). That’s about what it’s going to be in the six year span from 2013-2018 anyway, since Florida lost  home games by going to Miami in 2013, got rained/lightninged out against Idaho in 2014, and is playing Michigan in Dallas in 2017. See? Contrary to Foley’s beliefs, Florida’s going to survive financially despite not having those home games.

This would be fun to watch. This would provide more excitement. This would intensify the Gator football fan experience.

Your move, Jeremy Foley.

18 thoughts on “Memo to Jeremy Foley: let’s bolster Florida’s non conference schedule

  1. I agree. The choice of playing Miami every year is a no-brainer. As far as how good Miami is, it’s silly for UF to disparage them when you can’t beat them when you play them. Miami beat UF the last time, and that’s before any injuries happened that are used as the excuse for the awful season. It’s also not true that UF gets whoever they want in South Florida. That is something that is proven wrong just by looking at FSU’s and Miami’s roster. It’s a fact that if you interview players and ask who they want to play, Miami is mentioned as much or more than any other team, even though the kids know they are not on the schedule. I’m talking about players that are currently on UF’s roster, they want to play Miami. It would be a huge boost to recruiting in South Florida, and if you think UF is doing just fine already getting South Florida kids, you have not been paying attention.

    1. P.S. Playing Miami would also remove the perception that UF chickened out of playing Miami when they cancelled the series. If you recall, one of the reasons given was that UF wanted to play a more “national” schedule. Other than Syracuse, who else has UF played to fulfill a more “national” schedule?

      1. Montana State, Idaho, New Mexico State, East Carolina, Toledo, Bowling Green, Houston, Appalachian State, Hawaii, San Jose State, Western Michigan, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Western Kentucky, Wyoming, Miami Ohio, Marshall, Louisiana Monroe, Louisiana Lafayette, Louisiana Tech, Ball State, Middle Tennessee State, Arkansas State, Akron… well, you get the point.

  2. The talk is 16 Team Conferences with 8 Team play-offs.

    If that happens, all you’ll need to do is win your conference and there won’t be a need for easy teams.

    1. Not for the undefeated teams, no. But with an eight team playoff, you can be sure there will eventually be a one loss team clusterfuck. And when that happens, strength of schedule will come back to haunt someone.

      No matter how many teams, there will always be a problem. Somebody is always going to feel left out. Sure, winning out in the regular season puts that all to bed but the truth is, that’s so hard to do in the SEC. The last SEC team to go undefeated was Auburn in 2010. And for a one loss SEC at large candidate- as good as the SEC is- the committee is supposed to look at who they played out of conference.

  3. Alabama has proved that you don’t need to play the toughest schedule to win the be the national championship. So why waste games

      1. TCU and Baylor were left out due to attrition and the fact that the league touted “one true champion” only to turn around and anoint Co champs

    1. Alabama is the exception. They get credit whether it’s deserved or not. I don’t think there is another team in the country that is more worshiped by the folks who choose. They, at least right now, are the one team above all others when it comes to not having the schedule or record matter. That was verified last year when they were handed the top seed over an undefeated team.

  4. Although, as a fan it would be fun to play home and homes with high profile teams, it seems to be too big of a risk. It’s awesome if you win, but you really can only have 1 loss and still make the playoffs, and it is nearly impossible to go through SEC play without losing 1, and we already have 1 difficult non-conference game a year with FSU, why kill ourselves? A 1 loss SEC team will always make the playoffs, but if we risk another losable game, we could find ourselves outside looking in.

  5. I can only speak for myself but I stopped attending the cupcake games several years ago. There are now typically between 10,000-20,000 empty seats at those games. That alone hurts revenue. Foley harps on the need for UF to help he local company. For the big games, many people spend at least 1 if not two nights in Gainesville -with empty seats and now shows for cupcake games, the revenue for neutral site big time games would probably equal these cupcake games.

    Maybe this makes me a poor fan but I dropped my season tickets 4 years ago. There were several reasons but one was because I was tired of seeing cupcakes and the same sec teams every year- with Tenn down there were years when there was only 1 or 2 games at home worth attending/interesting. Neil- you said the games should be fun or exciting. I agree. I so want to see USC west or Texas or Clemson or someone play in the swamp. I even want to watch them play at those schools on prime time TV. I will gladly give up a crappy home game – and its revenue for UF and Gainesville – to have more than 2-4 exciting games a year.

    1. I think UF ans would pay a premium to see a quality opponent. That would remove the excuse Foley claims for not scheduling a real team. The viability of that could be discovered very easily by putting that question to season ticket holders. For instance, the simple question would be if you are willing to pay extra for a home game against, say Miami, to offset the cost of not hosting another paid lamb the following year? But knowing Foley and his ego, and his mania for power, I doubt he would allow the fans to voice their choice. If this proposal was made, I have no doubt that it would meet with a resounding yes. But then Foley would look like an idiot for having preached the seven home game mantra, and that is one thing he will not tolerate. I truly believe his ego is more important to him than anything else. That’s the reason UF has Jim McElwain as a coach and not an established big-time coach. Foley wants to relive his shining moment, the hiring of Billy Donovan, and the hire of a name coach would not have done that. How can you be a “Super Genius” if you hire someone that’s a proven commodity? That’s why a simple solution like the one I suggest will never happen. It will expose Foley’s mantra of needing seven home games a year to be something that only exists in his head.

  6. I try my best to be level headed on here, but I’m fed up with this dismissive attitude toward the Miami Hurricanes.

    Here’s a novel idea. Let’s not talk about Miami like a Conference USA team and a free win. Yeah I know they are willing to take road trips to FIU and FAU, which is kinda embarrassing. But does anybody remember what happened the last time we played them? Yeah, we fucking lost. How can you demean the quality of another team when your AD is too much of a pussy to schedule them AND THEN WHEN YOU DO PLAY THEM YOU LOSE? It seems we are scared to play them. Am I wrong? I dunno, Jeremy boy. You duck them again and again, and then when you finally play them, you lose. But yeah, we’re too good for them.

    Fuck that.

    Play Miami and FSU annually out of conference. Nice, clean and simple. Makes it easy to determine the state champ and bragging rights, takes all the work out of tough negotiations with other schools, and nobody will question Florida’s OOC strength again.

    1. Yes, thank you. Seriously, I was lurking on here yesterday waiting for somebody to stand up and admonish the rest of the commenters for talking down about Miami when they beat us the last time we faced them. You can’t demean a team like that if you can’t beat them. I don’t want to hear how much better than them we are. Are we? Well, 21-16. When you go 11-13 over a two year span, you can’t talk about ANY team like that, let alone a rival you pussied out of playing.

  7. Back to a play-off.

    If there are 5-6 Conference Champs (Those would be a huge money maker)

    8 teams selected for play-offs. That’s 2-3 At large selected based on ranking.

    Like the NFL, it would not matter your schedule.

    I’d start the Kick-off a week earlier and have the Championship Game by the First Week in January.

  8. Yes. Also I agree about the cupcake games with empty seats and lost concession revenue.

    If they could rotate the away games regionally that would be great for the Gator Nation living outside the SEC states. I would love for Florida to play NC State, UNC, or Duke! Driving from Raleigh to Columbia gets old, and my flights to Lexington get expensive.

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