By Eddie Melville
If you don’t live under a rock and follow college football in the state of Florida, you might have caught wind of the back-and-forth dialogue between UCF and Florida as it pertains to scheduling a future series. Long story short: Knights’ AD Danny White is committed to playing one road game in exchange for one home game while Gators’ AD Scott Stricklin is adamant that the Blue and Orange will only play Group of 5 schools in two for ones, with two of those happening at the Swamp naturally. No official offer truly exists between the two schools, although an email exchange released by the Orlando Sentinel reveals some of the details of the dialogue which included White suggesting a one-game neutral site matchup. Needless to say, many in the media have criticized Danny’s scheduling approach, suggesting that the Knights should take two-for-ones with P5 programs like Florida. However, if White’s tenure as the UCF athletic director has proven anything, it’s that he is not one to settle for anything. If the Knights are to add more Power 5 squads to their future schedule, it will be home-and-homes or neutral site match-ups.
While the 2019 non-conference slate is set, the Knights have several open dates in the years following. In 2020, two weeks remain empty while a home battle with North Carolina and a road trip to Georgia Tech are locked in. Three openings exist in 2021, with the only established game being a September 18th road trip to Louisville. In 2022, the Knights will enjoy the rare back-to-back ACC home platter of UL and Ga Tech while two open dates remaining to set up the possibility of three Power 5 games in one season. UCF has zero non-conference matchups as of right now in 2023 and only a home-and-home remaining the following two seasons (2024, 2025) with UNC. While I’m confident he is more on top of this than I am, it did not stop me from putting myself in Danny White’s shoes for a few hours to research the potential Power 5 games that could be there for the taking in future seasons. I tried to be as realistic as possible, considering only those opponents that would truly consider accepting a trip to the Bounce House in exchange for one home game of their own Based on that line of thinking, these are some of the Power 5 teams that might seriously consider accepting a 1 for 1 offer from UCF between 2020 and 2025:
The Golden Eagles have not been shy about playing the Knights, hosting UCF in 2008 and making the trip to Orlando in 2011. The latter matchup is a particularly fond memory for Knight fans as the Black and Gold prevailed in blowout fashion in what has become known by many as the Red Bandana Game. BC has three open dates in 2023 and two each in 2024 and 2025. While BC also has an opening in 2021, two road games are already booked and it is unlikely that UCF would want to travel to Chestnut Hill on top of a road trip to UL. 2023 and either 2024/25 could potentially work so long as the Golden Eagles are not opposed to having potentially three difficult non-conference matchups with Mizzou and Michigan State already scheduled for 2024 and Michigan State and Notre Dame slotted for 2025. Upon further review, the likelihood of a Boston road trip appears slim unless other games get moved around.
UCF vs. Syracuse has not happened since a 2-for-1 series in the early 2000s that the Orange swept clean. The Orange have 2 openings in 2020, with home for Liberty and away for Rutgers established. In 2021, Syracuse has 3 non-conference home games scheduled, with two of the foes being Liberty and Albany; perhaps a road trip to Orlando would suit them well. Fast forward to 2023 and the Orange only have a road game at Purdue and a home game vs. Army nailed down. Go a little further to 2024 and Cuse only is scheduled to travel to West Point. Needless to say, there are many 1 for 1 options here. The only downside is that UCF has achieved considerably more than Syracuse in the last decade. Until breaking through with a 9-3 mark this season, the Orange were coming off 4 losing seasons and generally have been considered one of the weaklings of the ACC. Now, it appears that sustained success is possible with head coach Dino Babers having 3 years under his belt. If I’m Danny White, I have to at least consider this one because the future schedules line up better here than most.
No, this isn’t because I read this article, although I find the author’s conclusions quite humorous. Call me crazy, but the Seminoles are in a peculiar position with their schedule going forward. Starting in 2021, FSU has 2 openings, although it is worth noting that two slots currently filled are Florida and Notre Dame, respectively. In 2022, only a home game versus Florida is scheduled, making either another home game or a possible road trip to Orlando more than feasible. 2023 is similar in that only the Florida game is scheduled, although it is at the Swamp. UCF is flexible that season though with zero non-conference matchups. If that doesn’t work out, the Noles could schedule the second half of a home-and-home in 2025 with the Knights. Again, compared to Miami and Florida, I am surprised how many open dates FSU has on their non-conference schedule. The potential boosts (recruiting, home attendance, TV ratings) that this matchup would generate seem to only make sense. The worst thing that happens for a Nole fan: you happen to lose both games. Okay, maybe that would be pretty bad as more recruits might start to really question whether they would like going to school in Orlando versus Tallahassee.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking: Duke would be awesome to schedule in basketball, but not football! Well, think again! Duke might not an exciting P5 school, but they also might actually pick up the phone. Another reality: the Blue Devils are not as bad at football as the casual fan may think. Duke has actually represented the ACC in 5 bowl games the past 6 years. Even better, the Blue Devils could use a home game in 2022 and a road game in 2023. If 2022 doesn’t work, Duke could still come to Orlando in 2023 and host the Knights in Durham in 2024. This would be a very doable road trip for UCF fans; even better, Knight Nation could show Duke what a real football fan base looks like.
In a not so distant past, the Horned Frogs were very much the UCF equivalent of the non-power conferences, winning 4 Mountain West championships and reaching the Fiesta Bowl and Rose Bowl in 2010 and 2011, respectively. TCU has finished in the AP Top 10 three times since joining the Big 12 to include a #3 final ranking in 2014. In recent years, TCU has typically scheduled one P5, one G5, and one FCS school, with the G5 matchup being the Iron Skillet rivalry game with SMU. Considering that TCU has dominated the last almost 30 years of the series 23-6, it is somewhat surprising that they have continued to pencil in SMU annually. As of right now, the series is not extended past 2019. From 2020 onward, the Horned Frogs have no more than one non-conference game scheduled per season, all of which are Power 5 games. Unlike an ACC or SEC school, TCU plays 9 conference games, making them less likely to want to play two Power 5 squads in non-conference play. With that said, punting strength of schedule on the Mustangs might not be their best strategy going forward. TCU could instead improve SOS and start a much more interesting series with UCF. Added benefits would include the opportunity to expand TCU’s recruiting presence in Florida as well as give them a game that might attract more media attention than their annual SMU slaughtering does. Perhaps this game would be a preview of a future cross-state rivalry if UCF ever joins the Big 12.
While I’m skeptical on whether most SEC schools would see UCF as a viable option, Arkansas has three or more non-conference spots open in 2022 through 2024. The Knights do not have an away game nailed down outside the AAC for 2022 and the Razorbacks do not have a non-conference home game scheduled either, so half the battle could already be over. Scheduling three Power 5 schools in 2022 would send a big statement to the rest of the college football world that the Knights are more than willing to play the “big boys” if the deals are fair. Therein lies the problem: would Arkansas be wiling to travel to Orlando for a Bounce House brawl? Unlike many of their SEC brethren, the Razorbacks play several non-conference road games to include Notre Dame in 2020, BYU in 2022, and Oklahoma State in 2024. A trip to UCF just might make sense for them in 2023 or even 2025. Unlike other SEC teams, Arkansas does not always make it to Orlando for a neutral site game or even qualify for the Citrus Bowl (not listing the stupid sponsor, it will always be the Citrus Bowl to me!) as their last appearance was in 2006. Give the Razorback alumni a true 2 for 1: a great football game and Disney vacation!
Never shy about scheduling a quality non-conference slate, the Wildcats and Knights have never played one another. Northwestern played Nevada, Duke, and Bowling Green in 2017and Duke, Akron, and Notre Dame in 2018. Noticeably missing was a game against an FCS foe. Danny White hopefully has taken notice that NW is not shy about challenging themselves outside the Big 10 and also sees that the Wildcats could use a road game in 2020 or 2024 and a home game in 2023 or 2025. While NW is far from the most attractive opponent the Knights could play from the Big 10, its close proximity to Chicago could make it a really fun September road trip and give the UCF Alumni Chapter in the Windy City a special weekend.
Nebraska has one opening on their schedule back to back years in 2023 and 2024. The Cornhuskers also have two openings in 2027 if the universities wanted to spread the series out over a couple of years. By this point, enough time would have passed for Scott Frost to be willing to play his former team as just about all the guys he recruited would be done at UCF. There is also a strong chance that Frost would see the benefit of getting Big Red more exposure in the state that he loves to scout for his uptempo offense. From Knight Nation’s perspective, this matchup would have all the drama and glamour anyone could want in a non-conference one-and-one series. I can already hear the GameDay crew hyping these games up. Come on Danny, you can do this!