The UCF Knights and Florida Gators have played just twice. But over the last few days, the two sides have had a public exchange over whether they’d schedule a series.
The whole thing started with the Playoff selection committee paired Florida with Michigan, not UCF, in the Peach Bowl.
Beforehand, it looked like UCF, the reigning Peach Bowl champs, and the Gators would meet for that bowl. Instead, the Knights will face LSU in the Fiesta Bowl.
Some UCF fans were under the impression Florida AD Scott Stricklin, who also serves on the Playoff selection committee, fought against a UCF matchup. He says he didn’t try to duck the Knights, and the Playoff committee has a recusals policy that would bar him from meddling with Florida’s matchup anyway. We’ll likely never know for sure why UCF and Florida didn’t get paired up, but this would make sense:
.@Brett_McMurphy says there was a handshake agreement from the selection committee and the Peach Bowl for the Peach Bowl to not get a group of 5 school for the 2nd year in a row. Translation: Florida was NOT ducking UCF. @969thegame @930TheGame— Brandon Kravitz (@BrandonKravitz) December 5, 2018
Naturally, the conversation’s shifted: Might UCF and Florida just schedule each other for the regular season? How often? And where?
Stricklin told ESPN that he’d like to schedule the Knights in a two-for-one series “in the right situation,” which would surely involve Florida hosting two games and UCF hosting one. Other Group of 5 programs have used plans like that to get visits from bigger programs.
UCF, which fairly views itself as an elite program, is not happy with the idea of playing an extra road game at Florida.
Stricklin said he and UCF AD Danny White “haven’t had a spot where we thought this made sense.” White then gave a not-so-friendly response in a statement:
“I’m encouraged to hear that UF is open to the idea of playing us in football. Since I’ve been here, it had been made clear to me there wasn’t much hope of that. Our scheduling philosophy has been transparent since I arrived at UCF — that we’re open to a home-and-home series with any non-conference Power 6 opponent. Top 10 programs don’t schedule two-for-one series where the balance is not in their favor. Our growing fanbase and our student-athletes deserve better than that.
“However, It sounds as though a single game could be an option and I’d bet there are plenty of neutral-site locations that would love to host a game of that magnitude. Perhaps we could work out a three-game series, with a home-and-home and a neutral site involved. I’m excited to follow up with Scott and his team to see if we can make this happen. It would be great for college football in the Sunshine State!”
A two-for-one series (with two games in Gainesville) would carry obvious benefits for Florida, of course.
For their road game, the Gators would make back some of the money they’d normally have to pay a team to come and play them. They’d also give up other home-game revenue, of course, but they’d get to pay a visit to their fans in the central part of the state, and they’d probably boost their strength of schedule a bit by playing a team like UCF. It’s hard to say how much, given that these games happen way off in the future.
But the bigger picture here is how scheduling this series could seriously benefit UCF, and maybe even change the Playoff race.
The undefeated Knights were Playoff snubs in 2017, prompting them to claim the national title for themselves after beating Auburn in the Peach.
This season, UCF went undefeated again and was a Playoff snub again. It’s unclear if playing better non-conference teams would’ve made the difference, but it didn’t help that the Knights’ regular season Power 5 wins the last two years came against Maryland and Pitt.
If the Knights want a case to make it into the four-team Playoff, scheduling programs like Florida certainly helps. Imagine how much a UCF win over Florida this season, when UF was good but not elite, would have looked. Then imagine if UCF played and beat Florida in a year when the Gators had a real title contender, as they’ve had plenty this century.
There are three ways a program like UCF can schedule a program like Florida, and none exactly involves an even split of home/road games.
- A one-off neutral-site meeting. These teams being just a couple hours apart might make this fun and feasible. But UCF would still need a game sponsor and TV channel to really want it, and with Power 5 alternatives, there’s no guarantee of that. (Houston beating Oklahoma in a 2016 Week 1 neutral-site might have given the Cougars a Playoff shot if they hadn’t lost several times shortly after that, but we’ll never know.)
- A one-off road game in Gainesville. UCF could collect a paycheck and play a road game with no other strings attached, like dozens of teams do throughout September.
- A two-for-one, where the Gators agree to make one road trip but still come out one home game ahead, as they would in a one-off.
Florida’s not going to agree to a one-for-one series. Power 5 teams do that sometimes, including some really good ones — and even some really good ones against UCF in the past. But those schools get the benefit of recruiting exposure in Florida when they visit UCF, and their home games aren’t the same massive events ones at The Swamp are.
Even if the Gators didn’t usually try to offset playing LSU and Florida State each year by scheduling light with other non-division, non-conference games, it’s hard to see them just making a two-game trade.
“We do home-and-homes with like FSUs and Power 5 leagues,” Stricklin said. “We haven’t done any home-and-homes with non-Power 5 teams. I don’t think we would start that.”
Dan Mullen said Florida offered a “really good deal” with a two-for-one.
UCF might ask for a neutral-site as the third game, but Florida wouldn’t do that for the same reason it wouldn’t do a one-for-one.
So, if UCF’s trying to get a big fish on the schedule and boost its Playoff chances without seeming like a mid-major, a two-for-one is smart.
Want Playoff respect? Scheduling a (usually) good SEC team three times certainly would help that. And these types of deals are done all the time! Florida’s got one on the books with UCF rival USF right now. Gator fans who saw this announcement saw a connection:
UCF doesn’t like being considered a non-power, but its options are limited.
As long as the Playoff committee disregards Group of 5 schedules, teams like UCF have to make some sacrifices to get a look. A two-for-one would be the simplest way to accomplish that goal while still getting a big home game against a hard team to get.