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Counting down every 2023 Florida college football game, from 81 to 1

We’ll miss the War on I-4, but we’re ready for new conference matchups and some Week 1 blockbusters.
 
FSU star quarterback Jordan Travis will have a hand in many of Florida's top games this season.
FSU star quarterback Jordan Travis will have a hand in many of Florida's top games this season. [ STEPHEN M. DOWELL | Orlando Sentinel ]
Published July 13, 2023|Updated July 13, 2023

The recent round of conference realignment means Florida’s master college football schedule lacks two rivalries — USF vs. UCF and Florida Atlantic vs. Florida International.

Though the War on I-4 and the Shula Bowl will be missed, realignment and the ACC’s new one-division format have created plenty of new (or at least infrequent), interesting matchups. The Bulls host the Owls on homecoming as AAC colleagues. UCF travels to Oklahoma, Kansas State and Texas Tech. Two of Florida State’s toughest conference opponents will be Duke and Pitt, while Miami hosts Clemson and Louisville.

The SEC hasn’t changed its scheduling format yet, but the Gators face at least three serious College Football Playoff contenders. Even Florida International’s schedule gets a refresh with visits from intriguing Conference USA newcomers Liberty and Jacksonville State.

Those are among the contests that livened up my annual ranking of every Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) game with a state team. My criteria, however, remain the same as the six previous years. I judge each matchup on how important I expect it to be and my general excitement around the game.

81. Maine at Florida International, Sept. 2

80. Northern Alabama at Florida State, Nov. 18

Sandwiched between FSU’s games against Miami and Florida is this one against the Lions and first-year coach Brent Dearmon, who spent last season as Willie Taggart’s offensive coordinator at Florida Atlantic.

79. McNeese State at Florida, Sept. 9

78. Villanova at UCF, Sept. 16

77. Bethune-Cookman at Miami, Sept. 14 (Thursday)

76. Monmouth at Florida Atlantic, Sept. 2

Former Texas coach Tom Herman will make his Florida Atlantic debut against Monmouth.
Former Texas coach Tom Herman will make his Florida Atlantic debut against Monmouth. [ CHARLIE NEIBERGALL | AP (2019) ]

Tom Herman’s Owls debut comes against Monmouth’s Kevin Callahan, whose 178 wins at Monmouth are the third among active coaches in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).

75. Florida International at Sam Houston, Oct. 18 (Wednesday)

74. North Texas at Florida International, Sept. 9

73. Florida International at New Mexico State, Oct. 4 (Wednesday)

72. Florida International at Arkansas, Nov. 18

71. Florida Atlantic at Clemson, Sept. 16

70. Ohio at Florida Atlantic, Sept. 9

69. Kent State at UCF, Aug. 31 (Thursday)

UCF's first game as a Big 12 member is against lowly Kent State.
UCF's first game as a Big 12 member is against lowly Kent State. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times (2022) ]

The Knights’ first game as a Big 12 member should be a rout.

68. Jacksonville State at Florida International, Oct. 25 (Wednesday)

Even if you couldn’t pick out Jacksonville State on a map (it’s in Jacksonville, Alabama), you might know two of the Gamecocks’ coaches: 46-year veteran offensive line coach Rick Trickett was an assistant on FSU’s 2013 title team, and Rich Rodriguez excelled at West Virginia before flopping at Michigan.

67. Charlotte at Florida, Sept. 23

66. Florida Atlantic at Charlotte, Oct. 27 (Friday)

65. Florida A&M at USF, Sept. 9

The home opener for new USF football coach Alex Golesh is against Florida A&M.
The home opener for new USF football coach Alex Golesh is against Florida A&M. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
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Alex Golesh’s first home game for the Bulls is against a Rattlers team that’s 27-7 over the past three seasons.

64. Florida International at Middle Tennessee, Nov. 11

63. Florida International at UConn, Sept. 16

62. Florida International at Louisiana Tech, Aug. 26

I’m not sure why this is a Week 0 game, but I won’t complain about something to watch.

61. Texas El Paso at Florida International, Oct. 11 (Wednesday)

60. Southern Miss at Florida State, Sept. 9

Frank Gore Jr. and his Southern Miss teammates hung with Miami for a half last year.
Frank Gore Jr. and his Southern Miss teammates hung with Miami for a half last year. [ WILFREDO LEE | AP (2022) ]

Why this could be interesting: Frank Gore Jr. and the Golden Eagles hung with Miami for a half last year, and the Seminoles host them on a short week after a Sunday game.

59. Western Kentucky at Florida International, Nov. 25

58. Miami at Temple, Sept. 23

The Manny Diaz bowl, in honor of the coach who went 21-15 with the Hurricanes but was technically undefeated in his 18 unforgettable days with the Owls.

57. Rice at USF, Sept. 23

56. Florida Atlantic at Illinois, Sept. 23

Before he was an All-America candidate at Illinois, Jer'Zhan Newton was a standout at Clearwater Central Catholic.
Before he was an All-America candidate at Illinois, Jer'Zhan Newton was a standout at Clearwater Central Catholic. [ DIRK SHADD | Times (2019) ]

A matchup between two former Clearwater Central Catholic teammates: Owls freshman Curtis Roberts and Illinois All-America candidate Jer’Zhan Newton.

55. Tulsa at Florida Atlantic, Oct. 7

54. Liberty at Florida International, Sept. 23

Jamey Chadwell’s entertaining spread-option offense made Coastal Carolina nationally relevant and made him a hot name on last year’s coaching carousel. How will he fare in his first season with the Flames after leaving star Chanticleers quarterback Grayson McCall?

53. Florida Atlantic at Rice, Nov. 25

52. Miami (Ohio) at Miami, Sept. 1 (Friday)

Our first look at how much different the Hurricanes are under second-year coach Mario Cristobal comes on a Friday night against a MAC contender quarterbacked by Brett Gabbert (the younger brother of former Bucs backup Blaine Gabbert).

51. USF at UConn, Oct. 21

50. Florida Atlantic at East Carolina, Nov. 11

49. FSU at Boston College, Sept. 16

Pinellas Park High alumnus Lawrance Toafili and the Seminoles blew out Boston College by 30 last year.
Pinellas Park High alumnus Lawrance Toafili and the Seminoles blew out Boston College by 30 last year. [ GARY MCCULLOUGH | AP ]

This should only be interesting if the Seminoles look past the Eagles and toward the next week’s trip to Clemson.

48. Temple at USF, Nov. 11

47. Virginia at Miami, Oct. 28

46. Charlotte at USF, Nov. 25

The Bulls’ finale against a Charlotte team jumping up to the AAC will show us how much progress Golesh’s team has made in Year 1.

45. Georgia Tech at Miami, Oct. 7

44. USF at Navy, Sept. 30

I’m curious how different the middling Midshipmen look after the departure of longtime coach Ken Niumatalolo. This also looks like the Bulls’ best opportunity for a road conference win.

43. USF at Memphis, Nov. 4

42. Alabama at USF, Sept. 16

Alabama and coach Nick Saban will be back at Raymond James Stadium for the first time since losing to Clemson in the national title game.
Alabama and coach Nick Saban will be back at Raymond James Stadium for the first time since losing to Clemson in the national title game. [ Times (2017) ]

It’s hard to see this one being close, but a visit from ‘Bama is still a big deal for the Bulls (and their budget).

41. West Virginia at UCF, Oct. 28

40. UCF at Cincinnati, Nov. 4

Three of their last four meetings were decided by four points or fewer. Hopefully the close games follow them from the AAC to the Big 12.

39. Florida at Missouri, Nov. 18

38. Syracuse at FSU, Oct. 14

37. Florida Atlantic at Alabama Birmingham, Nov. 4

36. USF at Alabama Birmingham, Oct. 7

Former Bucs quarterback Trent Dilfer is in his first season as the head coach at Alabama Birmingham.
Former Bucs quarterback Trent Dilfer is in his first season as the head coach at Alabama Birmingham. [ Times (1997) ]

The Blazers’ decision to hire former Bucs quarterback Trent Dilfer as head coach raised eyebrows (to put it politely) in the industry. We’ll see how he handles these two visits from Florida teams.

35. Houston at UCF, Nov. 25

34. Miami at Boston College, Nov. 24 (Friday)

This one gets a boost from its Black Friday time slot. I’m also intrigued by how Miami visiting Massachusetts in late November and the hot-seat status of Eagles coach Jeff Hafley (a former Bucs assistant).

33. FSU at Wake Forest, Oct. 28

32. UCF at Boise State, Sept. 9

No longer a matchup of two big Group of Five names, this one still provides the chance for the Broncos to get a quality nonconference win to bolster their case for a prestigious New Year’s Six bowl game.

31. Tulane at Florida Atlantic, Nov. 18

Tulane fields a fun offense and returns standout quarterback Michael Pratt, despite rumored interest from bigger programs. Will the Owls be ready to spring an upset in their home finale?

30. Vanderbilt at Florida, Oct. 7

The Gators' loss at Vanderbilt last year was inexplicable.
The Gators' loss at Vanderbilt last year was inexplicable. [ MARK HUMPHREY | AP (2022) ]

Losing at Vanderbilt last season was unacceptable. But losing to the Commodores at home in Billy Napier’s second season would be worse — much worse.

29. Louisville at Miami, Nov. 18

28. Miami at North Carolina State, Nov. 4

Brennan Armstrong quarterbacked one of last season’s oddest, ugliest games — Virginia’s 14-12 quadruple-overtime loss to Miami. Hopefully his transfer to the Wolfpack makes this matchup with the ‘Canes less painful to watch.

27. Virginia Tech at FSU, Oct. 7

26. Texas San Antonio at Florida Atlantic, Oct. 21

25. USF at Texas San Antonio, Nov. 17 (Friday)

Dynamic quarterback Frank Harris should help make the Roadrunners a serious contender in their first year in the AAC.
Dynamic quarterback Frank Harris should help make the Roadrunners a serious contender in their first year in the AAC. [ ERIC GAY | AP (2022) ]

The Roadrunners are a team to know because of exciting quarterback Frank Harris and because they’ll likely be immediate AAC contenders after winning back-to-back Conference USA titles.

24. UCF at Kansas, Oct. 7

23. Oklahoma State at UCF, Nov. 11

22. UCF at Texas Tech, Nov. 18

Texas Tech is an underrated college football environment. Just ask the Sooners, who lost there last year.
Texas Tech is an underrated college football environment. Just ask the Sooners, who lost there last year. [ JUSTIN REX | AP (2022) ]

These three games show what the Knights are up against in the Big 12: Kansas was one of the nation’s most improved teams, Oklahoma State has 17 consecutive bowl appearances and the Red Raiders have a sneaky-tough home environment. And those are only middle-of-the-road conference foes.

21. Arkansas at Florida, Nov. 4

The Gators’ most realistic paths to a bowl game involve beating KJ Jefferson and the Razorbacks in Gainesville.

20. Florida Atlantic at USF, Oct. 14

Maybe this will eventually become a spirited in-state rivalry and decent replacement for the War on I-4 or Shula Bowl. For now, it should be a competitive midseason test for both first-year coaches.

19. Florida at South Carolina, Oct. 14

18. Florida at Kentucky, Sept. 30

The last four meetings at Kroger Field have all been decided by one score. The Gators need a win to avoid their first three-game losing streak to Kentucky since 1948-51.

17. Miami at North Carolina, Oct. 14

If Miami's Tyler Van Dyke returns to his 2021 form, he'll be one of the top quarterbacks in the ACC, if not the country.
If Miami's Tyler Van Dyke returns to his 2021 form, he'll be one of the top quarterbacks in the ACC, if not the country. [ DAVID SANTIAGO | Miami Herald (2022) ]

NFL scouts will be all over this showdown between two of the nation’s most talented passers: North Carolina’s Drake Maye and Miami’s Tyler Van Dyke.

16. Duke at FSU, Oct. 21

This homecoming matchup is trickier than it sounds; the Blue Devils return 17 starters (including quarterback Riley Leonard) from a team that went 9-4 last year under first-year, first-time head coach Mike Elko.

15. USF at Western Kentucky, Sept. 2

A Week 1 trip to the Conference USA preseason favorites will show us immediately what Golesh’s team will look like, what he accomplished in his first offseason and how much work remains in the rebuilding process.

14. FSU at Pitt, Nov. 4

The Panthers established themselves as an upper-middle-class ACC program. Add in the fact that it’s a second consecutive road game, and this one could be tricky.

13. Tennessee at Florida, Sept. 16

Former UCF coach Josh Heupel had a breakthrough season at Tennessee last season.
Former UCF coach Josh Heupel had a breakthrough season at Tennessee last season. [ JOHN BAZEMORE | AP ]

After becoming the first Gators coach to lose to rivals Tennessee, Georgia and FSU in the same season, Napier could use a Week 3 victory over the Volunteers to boost his standing in the fan base. It’s also Tennessee’s first real test, so it will give us a gauge on how much of Josh Heupel’s success should be attributed to Golesh, his now-former coordinator.

12. UCF at Kansas State, Sept. 23

11. UCF at Oklahoma, Oct. 21

Oklahoma quarterback Dillon Gabriel will go against his former UCF team during the Knights' first year in the Big 12.
Oklahoma quarterback Dillon Gabriel will go against his former UCF team during the Knights' first year in the Big 12. [ STEPHEN M. DOWELL | Orlando Sentinel (2022) ]

Though Kansas State is the reigning league champion and UCF’s first conference game in the Big 12, the trip to Oklahoma’s storied 80,000-seat stadium will be the Knights’ real “Welcome to the big time” moment. Facing former teammate Dillon Gabriel adds to the buzz.

10. Clemson at Miami, Oct. 21

The Tigers have won the last four in the series by a combined score of 178-30. But Miami is one of the few teams talented enough to scare Clemson.

9. Texas A&M at Miami, Sept. 9

A loss to Miami would crank up the early pressure on Texas A&M's Jimbo Fisher.
A loss to Miami would crank up the early pressure on Texas A&M's Jimbo Fisher. [ ARTIE WALKER JR. | AP (2022) ]

Either Jimbo Fisher drops a marquee non-conference game early in his sixth season, or Cristobal loses his chance to make an early statement in Year 2.

8. Baylor at UCF, Sept. 30

The Knights’ first Big 12 home game is against the program that gave them one of their biggest wins in school history (the Fiesta Bowl that ended the 2013 season).

7. Florida at LSU, Nov. 11

One of the SEC’s wildest rivalries will be massive for the Tigers if they can knock off Alabama the week before hosting the Gators.

6. Florida vs. Georgia, Oct. 28 in Jacksonville

Only one of the past nine matchups was decided by one score. The Gators are recruiting well enough to close the talent gap with the back-to-back national champions, but they’re not there yet.

5. Miami at FSU, Nov. 11

Will Jordan Travis and the Seminoles run past the Hurricanes again?
Will Jordan Travis and the Seminoles run past the Hurricanes again? [ D.A. VARELA | Miami Herald (2022) ]

Though two of the last three meetings were blowouts, this rivalry almost always delivers intense drama. I think it returns this fall.

4. FSU at Florida, Nov. 25

Mike Norvell and Billy Napier will face off for the second time.
Mike Norvell and Billy Napier will face off for the second time. [ PHIL SEARS | AP (2022) ]

Last year’s game was arguably this rivalry’s best since 2006, if not earlier. The Seminoles might need a win in The Swamp to keep their playoff hopes alive.

3. Florida at Utah, Aug. 31 (Thursday)

Amari Burney had the game-sealing interception for the Gators' upset of Utah last year. This time, the matchup is at Utah.
Amari Burney had the game-sealing interception for the Gators' upset of Utah last year. This time, the matchup is at Utah. [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | AP (2022) ]

The stakes will be high for the Utes, who will again be Pac-12 contenders (assuming quarterback Cam Rising fully recovers from a torn ACL). A Week 1 win at one of toughest venues in the West would be huge for the Gators’ turnaround, too.

2. FSU at Clemson, Sept. 23

Clemson has won seven in a row over Florida State.
Clemson has won seven in a row over Florida State. [ PHIL SEARS | AP (2022) ]

The ACC favorites and playoff hopefuls have a Week 4 faceoff in Death Valley, where FSU will have a serious shot at ending a seven-game losing streak in the series. How will the Seminoles’ strong defense fare against a new-look Tigers offense under coordinator Garrett Riley? This would have been atop my list if both teams were still in the same division. But the new scheduling format allows for a possible winner-take-all rematch in the Dec. 2 ACC championship. Which means my No. 1 is the same as last year ...

1. FSU vs. LSU, Sept. 3 (Sunday) in Orlando

Last year's Florida State-LSU game had a fantastic finish. The stakes will be even higher this time in Orlando.
Last year's Florida State-LSU game had a fantastic finish. The stakes will be even higher this time in Orlando. [ MATTHEW HINTON | AP (2022) ]

This game has everything: Two big-name programs and preseason top-10 teams squaring off at a neutral site a year after playing a thriller decided by a blocked extra point with no time left. A loss won’t end the playoff hopes for either team, but the winner will get some wiggle room and solidify itself as a final four contender. This is FSU’s biggest game since the 2017 opener against Alabama. That game didn’t live up to the hype. Here’s hoping this one does.

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