By Eddie Melville
In the Sunshine State, every FBS school has a somewhat predictable conference schedule with a few changes across divisions. For example, UCF plays Houston in 2019 and 2020 but did not play the Cougars in 2017 or 2018. By comparison, the Knights played Memphis in 2017 and 2018, but are not scheduled to play them in 2019 or 2020. While conference games usually have the most at stake, it is often the non-conference games that grab fans’ attention heading into a new football season. Whether it’s the in-state rivalry game that makes for an easy road trip, a neutral site game, or a chance to play an uncommon opponent, non-conference games are just fun! For the Florida FBS schools in 2019, these 10 games will be worth keeping an eye on:
10) Florida Atlantic at Ohio State
Before you laugh, bear in mind that the Buckeyes will be led by first-year head coach Ryan Day. I know, I know: Ohio State will still be projected to roll in this home opener, but don’t be so quick to sleep on the Owls. Lane Kiffin returns for his third season and continues to bring solid recruiting classes to Boca Raton. While I highly doubt FAU wins this game, I could see their speed and maybe a little bit of Kiffin trickery keeping things interesting in the first half, unlike their season opener in Norman last year.
9) Miami vs FIU (at Marlins Park)
The Hurricanes and Golden Panthers are projected to win 8.5 and 7.5 games, respectively. Most years, we could assume this would be a blowout win for the U, but FIU should at least have a decent passing game led by quarterback James Morgan. The redshirt senior threw for 2,727 yards, 26 TDs and 7 INTs in 2018. Interesting enough, this game will be played in a stadium that stands where the Orange Bowl once was.
8) South Florida at Georgia Tech
The Bulls and Golden Jackets played an entertaining contest last season at Raymond James Stadium, with USF prevailing 49-38. Charlie Strong’s squad started 7-0 last season only to lose their final 6 games. Geoff Collins takes over as the head ball coach for the Yellow Jackets. This will be a measuring stick game for South Florida as a loss could easily put them at 0-2 (keep scrolling for the Bulls’ opening game).
7) BYU at South Florida
USF has never played BYU before. This game is scheduled for October 12, which means it could either still be pretty hot and humid in Tampa or we could get some delightful football weather. The Cougars finished 18th in total defense in 2018 and return seven of their top eight tacklers. Going purely off memories of watching these teams in past years, I see this one boiling down to BYU’s physicality vs. South Florida’s speed.
6) UCF at Pittsburgh
The Knights return a slew of talent on offense from last season’s 12-1 squad. With redshirt sophomore Darriel Mack expected to miss all of preseason camp due to a broken ankle, UCF could be led by a different starting quarterback in this one. Josh Heupel and Co. will likely be confident from last year’s result against Pitt, especially senior speedster Adrian Killins. However, the Panthers won several games down the stretch in 2018 to earn a spot in the ACC title game. Pat Narduzzi will have his young men motivated but will it be enough against UCFast?
5) Wisconsin at South Florida
It’s not every day that a Group of Five school gets to host one of the better Big Ten squads to open their respective seasons, but that’s exactly what the Bulls will get to do when the Badgers come to town on August 30. If recent history means anything, Wisconsin’s defense will be the best that USF faces in 2019. An early season home game typically favors a Florida team between weather and crowd noise, but the Bulls rarely sellout their rented pro stadium and Wisconsin fans have a reputation for traveling well. However, a win here could possibly inject some life into the South Florida fan base.
4) Florida State vs Boise State (EverBank Field)
The Seminoles open up Willie Taggart’s second season at the helm in Jacksonville against one of the stud Group of 5 teams. FSU is coming off its first losing season since 1976 and does not have a predetermined starter at quarterback entering camp. The Broncos will be replacing a 4-year starter in Brett Rypien but all five offensive lineman return as well as several defensive starters. The Noles better be on their Ps and Qs in this one. While it’s a neutral site, this will be more or less a home game for FSU. Lose this one and Coach Taggart will already be hearing it from the fan base.
3) Florida State at Florida
Most years, the Sunshine State Showdown tops any other non-conference game in Florida. However, with uncertainty surrounding the Noles and the Gators coming off a 10-3 season, it seems more likely that this game will represent the 2018 result than a Bowden-Spurrier classic. Still, it remains the biggest rivalry game in the state and maybe Taggart will have found his guy at quarterback by this point.
2) Florida vs Miami (Camping World Stadium)
The Gators and Canes get the college football season started with a boom in the Camping World Kickoff on August 24. Historically, Miami has had the upper hand in this series to include the last laugh in this rivalry in 2013. Florida is expected to be led by QB Feleipe Franks, the redshirt junior who has already been talking about a fourth statue outside of Ben Hill Griffin. ESPN’s matchup predictor has second year head coach Dan Mullen’s Gators as heavy favorites. While I’m not predicting they’ll win, I think Miami has a better chance with this game being the season-opener than if they played Florida later in the season like Florida State. Truly it’s a shame these schools don’t play this annually; expect helmets to fly and for this to come down to who wants it more in the 4th quarter.
1) Stanford at UCF
Yes, I am a UCF alumni. Yes, this is a bit of a homer pick. However, there is a lot to like about this game. For one, Stanford has consistently been a physical football team that beats inferior opponents but struggles against the top dogs. That would lead one to believe that the Knights have a big edge here, right? After all, no one else has gone 25-1 the last two seasons, regardless of SOS. However, the best way to give the Knights problems is to keep them off the field (cue the Fiesta Bowl tape). This is the type of game the Cardinal are capable of playing if their run game is anything in 2019 like it has traditionally been under head coach David Shaw. On the flip side, UCF can score fast with the best of them, but will they be as efficient at it without McKenzie Milton? This will be the first true test for Brandon Wimbush or Dillon Gabriel or even maybe Quadry Jones; how will they respond if Stanford smacks them in the mouth in the first half? UCF’s best bet will be to establish their own ground game (Greg McCrae, Killins, and Otis Anderson), get an early lead, and then let the Bounce House and heat take over (3:30 PM in Orlando in September is BRUTAL!). I’m sure all the other teams in Florida (and many others in the nation) will be hoping to jump on Twitter to celebrate a UCF loss while Knight Nation will try to prepare their hearts for another dosage of Cardiac Knights.