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Florida Gators’ risky scheduling philosophy has worked out

The Gators played a pair of Division I-AA teams. It hasn’t mattered.
Florida running back Lamical Perine, right, tries to escape a tackle by Towson safety S.J. Brown II (27) during the first half of a Sept. 28 game in Gainesville. [JOHN RAOUX  |  AP]
Florida running back Lamical Perine, right, tries to escape a tackle by Towson safety S.J. Brown II (27) during the first half of a Sept. 28 game in Gainesville. [JOHN RAOUX | AP]
Published Nov. 21

The Florida Gators don’t intend to schedule multiple Division I-AA opponents every year, as they did in 2018 and 2019. But considering how this season is unfolding, they might want to consider it.

Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin has said the I-AA games (against Tennessee-Martin and Towson) this September happened because of a spot that became open on the schedule.

RELATED: Why Florida Gators-Towson matters more than you think

“We could either pay $500,000 and get a second FCS school … or we could pay close to $2 million and get a directional FBS school,” Stricklin said during the SEC’s spring meetings in Destin. “That made no sense to me financially.”

Florida chose the cheaper route, which carried a significant risk: Playing two I-AA opponents could weaken the Gators’ strength of schedule and dent their shot at a trip to the Playoff or a prestigious New Year’s Six bowl game.

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Stricklin considered that possibility before finalizing the schedule. He spoke with members of the College Football Playoff selection committee (before he joined it) to see how they might view the decision during their deliberations.

Stricklin concluded that with eight conference games (including Georgia, Auburn and LSU) plus Miami and Florida State to bookend the regular season, the Gators wouldn’t be penalized by facing Towson instead of a team like Troy.

“I think we’re going to have one of the toughest schedules in the country,” Stricklin said in Destin.

With two weeks left in the regular season, he’s right. Florida’s schedule has been the 19th toughest in the country, according to the Sagarin ratings.

UT Martin wide receiver Jaylon Moore, left, tries to get around Florida linebacker Jonathan Greenard during the first half of a game on Sept. 7. [JOHN RAOUX | AP]

Florida isn’t in the playoff hunt, so we don’t know how much those two games would have affect its standing compared to contenders like Oklahoma or Oregon or Alabama. But we do know that it doesn’t seem to be affecting the Gators’ chances of a top-tier bowl game.

“It's certainly a part of the conversation,” committee chairman Rob Mullens said. “We're aware of the two FCS games, but we're also aware that they beat No. 15 Auburn and their two losses are to the No. 1 and No. 4 ranked teams.”

Translation: Florida’s overall body of work is strong enough for the committee to overlook two wins against overmatched teams, even though some top programs haven’t played a single I-AA opponent. The committee’s actions back that mentality up.

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The Gators are No. 11 in this week’s rankings. With at least one team from the Big Ten and another from the Pac-12 guaranteed a loss, Florida is in strong position for a spot in the Orange or Cotton Bowl with a win over the Seminoles next week.

So Florida’s decision to schedule two I-AA teams saved the program roughly $1 million without appearing to jeopardize its chances of qualifying for an elite bowl game and finishing in the top 10. That doesn’t sound like the makings of an anomaly. It sounds like a smart scheduling strategy to consider in the future.

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