Read more – Will UCF answer the bell?
For all the hand-wringing by UCF about respect and the desire to being given home-and-home series by UF Neil Blackmon has properly outlined in his outstanding piece, it has to be pointed out the process taken by Miami, Florida State and most recently South Florida to gain national relevance.
When Bobby Bowden, the greatest football coach this state has ever seen arrived at Florida State in 1975 he was willing to play anyone, anywhere to establish FSU as a national program. At one point between the 1979 and 1983 seasons, Florida State traveled to Baton Rouge FIVE STRAIGHT SEASONS to face LSU who was not exactly a national power, but merely a faded regional one. FSU won four of the five meetings. In the same period Florida State played Ohio State and Notre Dame on the road without a return game.
FSU made the Orange Bowl after the 1979 and 1980 seasons (which can be comparable to UCF’s current run of two straight major bowl games in this era) and by 1987, Florida State was so strong after playing a national schedule with many more big road games than home ones they were in a position to begin one of the most remarkable streaks in the history of the sport – 14 successive top 5 finishes in the AP Poll.
Meanwhile, down the road in Miami, the Hurricanes who had been a respectable program in the 1950 to 1967 time period, finishing in the national rankings many times had completely collapsed. The school considered dropping football. In 1979, Howard Schenllenberger a disciple of Bear Bryant and Don Shula, but a failed NFL Head Coach took over the ailing program. He installed a pro style passing attack in an era where running offenses dominated college football.
As a program without a conference affiliation but hailing from a major urban area, Miami had long played a hodgepodge of opponents from around the country. But Schnellenberger saw scheduling strategically much like Bowden. He wanted to rope off the “State of Miami” the region south of I-4 with an emphasis on Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. Meanwhile he wanted to cherry-pick the best players in other places.
Miami had a similar attitude to Florida State under Bowden albeit with a little more arrogance and entitlement. Miami would play anyone, anywhere but often insisted on return games or 2 and 1’s. Miami was able to secure home-and-home series with the likes of Penn State, Oklahoma and Texas in this era but had to play twice at Michigan with no return game (ironically both times Miami traveled to Ann Arbor – in 1984 and in 1988 they were ranked number one in the AP poll entering the game despite being treated as a lousy non-conference opponent with no return home game. Florida State made the same agreement with no return game and their second trip to Michigan in 1991 saw the Noles enter the game ranked #1 in the AP Poll).
Miami agreed in the 1980’s to play a 2 and 1 with Arkansas similar to what Florida is currently proposing to UCF. Miami played the series and beat Arkansas all three times (1987 and 1991 away, 1988 at home).
As Neil Blackmon has pointed out in our accompanying article, by the time the Florida-Miami annual series ended in 1987, the Hurricanes were in a strong enough position nationally that they scheduled several home-and-home series to occupy the open spots on their schedule once Florida (and Notre Dame) had dropped the Hurricanes.
UCF’s rival, the University of South Florida scheduled aggressively even after joining a then BCS conference, the Big East. While an independent they scheduled a game at Oklahoma with no return game – similar to some of the games UCF has scheduled in the past. But even after joining a then major conference, USF scheduled a two and one with Florida State, six year series with Miami, at Penn State, at Notre Dame and at Auburn with no return games.
South Florida’s success in the 2005 to 2009 time period and quick rise up the polls in multiple seasons, most notably 2007 when compared to the slog UCF has had with pollsters when unbeaten the last two seasons is due entirely to scheduling. It’s a lesson UCF can learn and emulate.
The Knights have accomplished a lot these last two seasons, but national relevance and respect depends on playing as tough a schedule as possible and not just winning one-off bowl games and then proclaiming yourself national champions. UCF does deserve more respect, but the rules of the game are dictated by the elites and power five conferences and are clear for anyone to see. So UCF needs to play along or they will continue to suffer question marks even if they never lose another game.