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.)
|9/5||East Carolina||9/3||Oklahoma||9/2||vs. Michigan (DAL)|
|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)|
|11/14||@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|
|9/1||Colorado State||8/31||@Oklahoma||9/5||vs. Clemson (ATL)|
|9/8||@Miami||9/7||Florida A&M||9/12||Central Florida|
|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)|
|11/10||South Carolina||11/16||@South Carolina||11/14||South Carolina|
|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.