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UCF should follow FSU’s lead, play Florida on Gators’ terms

I am not the one to give Florida State football credit for much, but count me as one that is tired of hearing about UCF’s right to join the big boys and blaming the Florida Gators for not wanting to play them in a bowl game this time around. If you want to get in the picture in playoff contention, in bowl matchups, etc. with teams like Florida, Miami, and Florida State, you simply have to play a better schedule.

It really is no more difficult than that, other than you actually have to win those games when you do play them.

The fans at Central Florida have been sounding off on social media about how unfair things are by being left out of the College Football Playoffs and how Florida is ducking or avoiding the Knights by asking not to play them in a bowl game.

Forget the numerous on-the-record statements from people in charge of the process that there was really no choice, given the rules, of where and who the Knights would play in the bowl scenario.

Two undefeated regular seasons have the Knights up-in-arms over not being included in the final four of the college football world. Two wins in two regular seasons over Power-5 teams… which is a group that includes teams that if they went undefeated would get a seat in the final four.

Even when Florida Athletic Director offered up the chance to play Florida this week on future schedules, it wasn’t enough for the Knights to give in.

“I’d be OK with scheduling them in the right situation,” Florida Athletic Director Scott Stricklin said at the Gators’ meeting with the media to kick off the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl practices. “We do home-and-homes with like FSUs and Power 5 Leagues. We haven’t done any home-and-homes with non-Power 5 teams. I don’t think we would start that. But I’d love to schedule [UCF] in a game.” 

All these Knights with their chests puffed out, are new to all of this, I get that. But led by Central Florida Athletic Director Danny White, they just haven’t figured out how this bog boy football works.

“I’m encouraged to hear that UF is open to the idea of playing us in football,” told the Orlando Sentinel following Stricklin’s comments. “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.” 

Growing is the key word, in other words trying to make a program a big time program. But White and the Knights are going the wrong way about it.

If you want to know how to do it, follow the path of Bobby Bowden and Florida State some 4 decades ago. And I am not one to parade the Seminoles and what they have done right, but they were in pretty much the same shoes as UCF is right now.

Bowden showed up at Florida in 1976. The Seminoles at the time were an independent program, not a member of any conference and had only played Florida a total of 18 times in the seasons before Bowden arrived in Tallahassee as the head coach. In that time, Florida was 15-2-1 versus Florida State.

Bowden, who came from West Virginia, was hired to bring a wide open offense to the Seminoles and one that wasn’t afraid to try anything.

But Bowden actually brought more than just an offense, he brought an attitude. He had a motto back then. Anyone. Anywhere. Anytime.

In other words, ‘we will play anyone, anywhere, and at any time’.

Florida State was already playing a few ranked college football teams every year anyway, but he knew in order to get his program where he wanted it to be, they were going to have to take it up a notch.

They took their lumps in some seasons early. In 1981, they played on the road at Nebraska, at Ohio State, at Notre Dame, at LSU, and at Florida. They finished 6-5 that year, but did win three of those games on opponents’ fields. The following year they travelled again to Ohio State and won for the second year in a row, they also played at Miami and beat the ranked Hurricanes, and they traveled to ranked LSU where they did lose in a 9-3 season.

In 1983, FSU played four road games in a row at LSU again, Tulane, Auburn, and Pittsburgh. They also traveled to Arizona State, and played at Florida. In a season with 11 regular season games, the Seminoles were on the road for six of them. In ’84 it was at Kansas, at Miami, at Memphis State, at Arizona State again, and at a No. 5 South Carolina team. They went 8-3-1 in 1984.

Florida State and Nebraska played each other four times between 1980 and 1986. All four games were played in Lincoln, Nebraska.

One thing that should be mentioned is that all of this was going on when games on national TV were few and far between compared to what we have today. By playing these schedules against these big programs, Bowden was getting his independent squad on television and sometimes beating these teams on their fields. They were getting recognized nationally.

Knights’ AD White is the brother of Florida Basketball head coach Mike White and probably should pay attention to the more recent history of the round ball program.

I think Florida Basketball learned a lesson about scheduling poorly as well. The Gators never had 20+ wins in a single season until 1986-1987. They have had 25 of those seasons since that year. The barrier to get in the NCAA Tournament often was thought to be 20 wins not too long ago. And in fact, the first 13 times that the Gators reached the 20 win mark, they made the tournament.

But after Billy Donovan won a couple of national titles in 2006 and 2007, he took his short hiatus to be the Orlando Magic coach and then didn’t become the Orlando Magic coach instead, returning to Florida to carry on.

There may be some theory that I am not aware of after that season, but the fact is the Gators’ schedule depreciated a great deal.

In the 2007-2008 season, Florida finished the season and SEC Tournament with a 21-11 record. Again, the 13 times previous to that season where the Gators notched 20+ wins, they made the tournament. A pretty weak SEC was partly to blame, but the Gators non-conference schedule that season was against Florida State and Ohio State, and a bunch of directional schools that don’t make the tournament very often. Florida may have been good enough for the NCA Tournament that year as they did make it to the semifinals of the NIT.

A year later, it was much of the same thing. In 2008-2009, Florida finished the season and SEC Tournament with a 23-9 record. The non-conference scheduled included Syracuse (lost), Washington (win), Florida State (lost), and a bunch of directional schools including a lopsided win over Central Florida. Even 23 wins wasn’t good enough and the Gators were pushed to the NIT where they won two games before being ousted.

One year later, Florida finished with 21 wins after the SEC Tournament. But they played Florida State, Michigan State, Syracuse, North Carolina State, and Rutgers in the preseason. They also played Xavier in the middle of the conference schedule. Despite a couple of less wins than the previous season, they were invited back into the NCAA Tournament.

Since that point, Florida’s non-conference schedule has been much harder and continually getting that way, even with an improved SEC. But that is how you get noticed by the people that matter.

All of this is a lesson for UCF. You are going to have to play a tougher schedule. That means you are going to have to take a hit or two in order to do it. Those hits, if played right, will pay off in the end.

If you don’t that, the respect will continue to lack.

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