My first attempt at the annual tradition of ranking every Division I-A football game in the state ended before it could even get published, when the Big Ten canceled its non-conference games last month.
Since then, the state has dropped from 78 originally scheduled games to 65 (for now, at least).
At the risk of jinxing college football fans again, here’s my second crack at it. As always, I’m ranking games based on how exciting I find the matchup and how important I think it will be. Keep an eraser nearby.
65. Florida International at Texas-El Paso, Nov. 7
It’s hard to get fired up about a Miners team that has won two games over the last three seasons.
64. Jacksonville State at Florida State, Oct. 3
The Seminoles can’t play the Gators, but they can play a Division I-AA team that went 6-6 last year? Sigh.
63. Florida International at Charlotte, Oct. 17
62. Charlotte at Florida Atlantic, Oct. 3
61. Texas-San Antonio at Florida Atlantic, Oct. 31
60. UCF at East Carolina, Sept. 26
59. Middle Tennessee at Florida International, Oct. 10
58. The Citadel at USF, Sept. 12
Bulls coaches should never look past a I-AA opener (see: State, McNeese), but Jeff Scott’s debut should be a breeze.
57. Louisiana Tech at Florida International, Nov. 28
Former USF coach Skip Holtz just led Louisiana Tech to its best season ever (10-3) but will be rebuilding without Conference USA’s Player of the Year, quarterback J’Mar Smith.
56. Georgia Tech at Miami, Nov. 21
55. Tulsa at UCF, Oct. 3
54. Florida at Vanderbilt, Nov. 21
53. Tulsa at USF, Oct. 23
A great opportunity for an AAC win in Scott’s first year gets a boost because it gives us something to watch on a Friday night.
52. Florida International at Marshall, Oct. 31
51. Florida Atlantic at Southern Miss, Oct. 10
50. Florida International at Western Kentucky, Nov. 21
49. Florida Atlantic at Marshall, Oct. 24
48. Florida International at Liberty, Sept. 26
This one probably won’t be as interesting as some of Liberty coach Hugh Freeze’s previous Florida-related encounters….
47. Miami at Wake Forest, Nov. 28
46. Tulane at UCF, Oct. 24
45. Florida Atlantic at Middle Tennessee, Nov. 28
A meaningful conference matchup has familiar names for FSU fans: Willie Taggart against Blue Raiders coach Rick Stockstill, a former Seminoles quarterback and member of the school’s athletics hall of fame.
44. Virginia at Miami, Oct. 24
43. Virginia at FSU, Nov. 28
42. Florida Atlantic at Georgia Southern, Sept. 19
Taggart’s Owls debut comes against one of the top teams in the Sun Belt.
41. Missouri at UF, Oct. 24
40. FSU at Duke, Dec. 5
39. USF at Temple, Oct. 17
The Bulls have never won at Temple, but the Owls seem more vulnerable than usual.
38. East Carolina at USF, Oct. 10
37. FSU at North Carolina State, Nov. 14
The Seminoles have lost six of their last 11 games in Raleigh.
36. Miami at North Carolina State, Nov. 6
35. Temple at UCF, Nov. 14
34. South Carolina at UF, Oct. 3
Will Muschamp might need a marquee win (like upsetting his old Gators) to keep his job with the Gamecocks.
33. Florida Atlantic at Florida International, Nov. 13
Since starting at USF in 2013, Taggart is 3-8 against rivals, but beating Butch Davis in the Shula Bowl looks a lot easier than topping Clemson or UF.
32. Navy at USF, Nov. 21
31. Western Kentucky at Florida Atlantic, Nov. 7
The division title could come down to whether Taggart can beat the Hilltoppers, his alma mater and the school that gave him his first head coaching job.
30. Pitt at FSU, Nov. 7
29. Pitt at Miami, Oct. 17
The Panthers’ front seven should still be strong, despite tackle Jaylen Twyman opting out. This will be a tough test for Miami’s new offense, especially coming off the Clemson game.
28. FSU at Louisville, Oct. 24
27. Miami at Louisville, Sept. 19
26. UCF at Georgia Tech, Sept. 19
With so few non-conference games, this ACC-AAC mashup gets magnified.
25. UCF at Houston, Oct. 31
24. USF at Houston, Nov. 14
I have no idea what to make of the Cougars, who have a bright coach (Dana Holgorsen) but lost quarterback D’Eriq King to Miami after his weird redshirt season. It wouldn’t surprise me if USF ended a four-game losing streak to Houston or if the Cougars blew out the Bulls again.
23. USF at Cincinnati, Oct. 3
22. USF at Memphis, Nov. 7
21. Kentucky at UF, Nov. 28
It’s still weird not to see UF-FSU on this date. But five of the last six games in this series have been tight, and Mark Stoops’ Wildcats should be solid.
20. Miami at Virginia Tech, Nov. 14
19. USF at Notre Dame, Sept. 19
A wonderful fallback option for both teams after previous games fell through. I’m just not sure the Bulls can upset the Irish, as they did in 2011.
18. UF at Mississippi, Sept. 26
The Gators should overpower Lane Kiffin’s new team in his Rebels debut. I am curious what sort of reaction former Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen will get from the (limited) fans when he returns to play the School Up North.
17. Cincinnati at UCF, Nov. 21
16. Alabama-Birmingham at Miami, Sept. 10
A sneaky good matchup. King’s Miami debut comes against a UAB team that has made back-to-back conference title games. And the ’Canes have lost two in a row to Conference USA teams...
15. UCF at USF, Nov. 27
Only this low because the gap between the Knights and Bulls seems large, especially in Scott’s first season.
14. North Carolina at FSU, Oct. 17
13. North Carolina at Miami, Dec. 5
The Tar Heels’ trip to Tallahassee is intriguing because standout quarterback Sam Howell was a longtime FSU commit and the one who got away from Taggart. But the edge goes to the finale at Miami because of its potential conference championship implications.
12. FSU at Notre Dame, Oct. 10
The Irish can boost their ACC championship hopes — how weird is that to say? — with a win over their occasional rival.
11. Arkansas at UF, Nov. 14
Even if the game is a dud, I’m here for former UF starting quarterback Feleipe Franks’ return to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (assuming he’s starting for the Razorbacks). How many players have ever shushed The Swamp playing for and against the Gators?
10. USF at Florida Atlantic, Sept. 26
The Taggart Bowl will be an important measuring stick for the progress of his old program and his new one.
9. Clemson at FSU, Nov. 21
If Norvell has his Seminoles figured out by then, this could be tricky for Clemson. FSU is still one of the most talented teams on the Tigers’ schedule.
8. UF at Texas A&M, Oct. 10
Jimbo Fisher’s last game at FSU was a triumph over the Gators. Can he do it again with the Aggies? More importantly, here’s hoping UF doesn’t revive the swamp green monstrosities it wore the last time it faced A&M.
7. Miami at Clemson, Oct. 10
The ‘Canes get an extra week to prepare for the Tigers, who have beaten Miami by a combined score of 96-3 in the last two meetings. This one has to be more competitive … right?
6. Georgia Tech at FSU, Sept. 12
The mediocrity of Geoff Collins’ Yellow Jackets slightly weighs down the buzz of Norvell’s FSU debut.
5. UCF at Memphis, Oct. 17
With only three Power Five leagues competing, this could be the year a Group of Five team gets into the College Football Playoff. The winner of this fun matchup might have the best shot.
4. UF at Tennessee, Dec. 5
The Volunteers have top-25 buzz, and the Gators could be playing for a trip to the SEC title game. Add in a chilly trip to Knoxville, and this is one of the most interesting Florida-Tennessee games in years.
3. LSU at UF, Oct. 17
The Tigers will likely regress without No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow, but the defending national champions are still talented. The best receiver in the country (Ja’Marr Chase) will be a big test for a secondary that should still be strong, even without first-round pick CJ Henderson.
2. FSU at Miami, Sept. 26
This won’t be the high-stakes referendum it was for Taggart last season, but it’s still important. Norvell would buy himself a lot of goodwill in Tallahassee by ending his first month with the kind of marquee rivalry victory his predecessor never got. Diaz needs this, too, especially if his ‘Canes slip up in either of their first two games.
1. UF vs. Georgia, Nov. 7 (Jacksonville)
Same as last year and the same as in my initial rankings. Both SEC East frontrunners have top-10 teams, and the victor will remain in the College Football Playoff hunt. Add in the rivalry intensity and the fact that Mullen’s Gators are 0-2 against Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs, and this remains one of the nation’s most interesting games of the entire season — and easily the best in the state.