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Why state games like Florida-USF are in danger of disappearing

Future SEC and ACC scheduling will make it tougher for non-conference, in-state matchups.
Saturday will be the first time since 2010 that the Florida Gators have played USF. How many more matchups will there be?
Saturday will be the first time since 2010 that the Florida Gators have played USF. How many more matchups will there be? [ Times (2010) ]
Published Sep. 7

TAMPA — USF and the No. 13 Florida Gators both are expecting a great atmosphere Saturday at Raymond James Stadium.

With only a few thousand tickets remaining, the Bulls are preparing for their largest home crowd in years. The Gators are anticipating a hostile environment against an opponent that has been thinking about this matchup for years.

Related: USF has had an ‘X’ on Gators game for years. It’s finally here.

“I think it’ll be great for Tampa,” USF coach Jeff Scott said. “I think it’ll be great for our team and our program to be able to host a program like Florida here.”

Enjoy it while it lasts. Games like this appear to be numbered.

Under coach Dan Mullen, UF has prioritized playing other teams in the state. Mullen likes how players’ families can visit easily because so many of them live within driving distances. Any recruiting boost that comes with playing in an NFL stadium in one of UF’s most important recruiting areas helps, too.

Related: Why Dan Mullen wanted the Florida Gators-USF football series

Players can look forward to facing people they grew up playing with or against. USF lineman Andrew Kilfoyl and UF defensive back Jordan Young went to Gaither High together. UF’s Austin Barber and Marcus Burke were teammates with USF’s CJ Ross on the Jacksonville Trinity Christian team that made last year’s Class 3A state title game.

UF-USF doesn’t have the same national buzz as UF-Michigan or UF-Texas, but it matters locally.

“The general fan in Seattle’s probably not, all, ‘(I) can’t wait for this game to happen,’” Mullen said. “But I think here in the state of Florida, this game’s a big game.”

The Gators played Miami in the 2019 opener and have an upcoming series against the Hurricanes.
The Gators played Miami in the 2019 opener and have an upcoming series against the Hurricanes. [ Tampa Bay Times ]

Both teams’ upcoming schedules reflect the value of state matchups, beyond the annual rivalries of USF-UCF and UF-Florida State. In addition to this three-game series with USF (in Gainesville in 2022 and 2025), the Gators have a home-and-home series with Miami (2024-25) and a three-game series with UCF (at UF in 2024 and 2033, in Orlando in 2030).

The Bulls have a three-game series booked with Miami (in Tampa in 2027, at Hard Rock Stadium in 2025 and 2028) and expect Saturday’s crowd to be their largest since hosting FSU in 2016.

But as college football undergoes a radical transformation, scheduling will change with it, potentially pushing these kinds of matchups away.

The SEC has not yet announced how its conference scheduling will change when Texas and Oklahoma join on or before the 2025 season. But the expectation around the sport is that the league will go from eight conference games to nine or 10. Assuming the UF-FSU series remains — here’s hoping it does — the Gators will have only one or two slots to fill. That doesn’t leave much room for a game against USF or UCF, especially considering the Gators have already announced Power Five series with programs like Notre Dame, Colorado and Arizona State.

Related: Why Florida is sticking with Emory Jones, not Anthony Richardson (for now)

ACC scheduling is set to change, too, as part of the conference’s hazily defined alliance with the Pac-12 and Big Ten. If the alliance sticks and takes meaningful action, Miami and FSU will likely end up playing a team from both of the other leagues every year. That takes away two non-conference slots that could have gone to USF or UCF.

Will Florida State be able to schedule USF in the future?
Will Florida State be able to schedule USF in the future? [ Times (2009) ]

We don’t know what UCF’s future scheduling will look like if (when) the Knights join the Big 12. And what if the biggest brands form a premier league that includes UF, FSU, Miami and 20-some other schools?

Granted, some of these state matchups are not close. The Gators beat USF by 24 in Gainesville in their only other meeting (2010), and this weekend’s game likely will be even more lopsided. But the Bulls’ 17-7 win over No. 18 FSU in 2009 remains one of the biggest victories in program history, which means these games still have value.

There just might not be many of them left.

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