Powered Up! Scott Stricklin delivers on promise to strengthen future Gator football schedules

Florida Gators
Promise made. Promise kept.

Update 11/12/19: Florida and Arizona State have officially announced their series.

(Original story begins below.)

It was barely six months ago that I wrote this article suggesting that Scott Stricklin was about to completely overhaul Florida’s non conference football schedule, and barely five months ago that Stricklin first broke ground on the construction of this project.

Now, that project is nearing completion. So if you’re a member of the dwindling portion of Florida’s fan base that enjoys playing a weaker non-conference schedule and seven true home games to rack up the wins, you’d better enjoy 2020, because after that, the non conference slate begins to… power up. With a distinctly Western flair, I might add.

In recent months, Scott Stricklin has added home and home series, at various points in time between 2022 and 2031 with Utah, Miami, Colorado and Texas, as well as a two-for-one with South Florida that had its dates shifted around in order to better accommodate USF’s needs.

And now Stricklin has gone and done it again, according to multiple reports. Florida will soon announce home and home series with a pair of Pac-12 teams: California and Arizona State. The Gators will host Cal in 2026 before making the return trip in 2027, and will travel to Tempe in 2028 in exchange for ASU visiting the Swamp in 2031.

That means that the Gators- who just squared off against Michigan and Miami in season kickoff games in two of the last three seasons- now have home and home series set with one third of the Pac-12 conference, one with in-state rival Miami, one with college football titan Texas, and a two-for-one with one of the better Group of Five schools out there. And none of that includes the fact that Florida already has an annual rivalry with Florida State, who, despite Willie Taggart’s quickly aborted tenure, still stands as traditionally one of the best programs in the ACC. So that’s the end of rival fans mocking Florida for their non conference schedule.

In fact, future Gator football schedules are so loaded with intriguing opponents, it’s difficult to keep track of them. So I decided to make a handy chart in order for you to keep it all straight.

Future Florida Gators non conference football schedules
Year Opponent 1 Opponent 2 Opponent 3
2023  @UTAH ?     FSU
2024     MIAMI ?  @FSU
2026     CALIFORNIA ?  @FSU
2027  @CALIFORNIA ?     FSU
2029  @COLORADO ?     FSU
2030     TEXAS ?  @FSU

Two quick disclaimers about the chart. One, yes, FAU counts as an intriguing opponent, at least for now, because assuming he’s still there in two years, Lane Kiffin will make his long awaited return to the Swamp. Lots of Gator fans don’t feel as though Florida’s 23-13 win over Kiffin’s Tennessee Volunteers was sufficient punishment for bragging that he’d “sing Rocky Top all night long after beating Florida” and later accusing then-Florida coach Urban Meyer of cheating on the recruiting trail.) Two, yes, Florida plays four non conference opponents a year, but Stricklin would prefer to leave one of those four spaces open for a weaker opponent. Which is understandable, as playing eight SEC games and four big time non conference opponents can be extremely wearing.

But look at those schedules. Florida is now set to play three different Power Five opponents in its non conference slate in 2028 and 2031.

The key thing for Stricklin and Florida to keep in mind is that for financial purposes, Florida has to host six home games a year. (That number used to be seven, but with the attendance problems of the last few years, Stricklin is willing to burn one of them up in exchange for a tougher strength of schedule.) It gets a little tricky to do because the Gators lose a home game in odd years by playing Georgia in Jacksonville, meaning that they only get three SEC opponents in the Swamp. In even years, Georgia is considered the “home” team, so that’s not a game in the Swamp that Florida is giving up.

That means that the Gators have to host three non conference opponents in odd years to hit that magic number of six. Conversely, that also means that Florida cannot play more than one non conference road game in odd years. So that handcuffed Stricklin a little bit in his negotiations, and that’s why he deserves immense credit for wriggling around that and getting deals done anyway.

And Florida still might not be done beefing up its non conference schedule. A source tells me that Stricklin has every intention of filling the empty slots on the Gators’ 2023, 2024, 2026, 2027, 2029 and 2030 schedules with either three home and home series against Power Five opponents if possible, or two two-for-one series against Group of Five schools. Of course, there’s no limit as to how far down the road Florida can schedule football games. That probably means that Stricklin is still working the phones trying to cut deals with other schools beyond 2031, as I really can’t bring myself to believe that Stricklin was only looking for two such series to be scheduled as a result of this tweet.

That tweet caught the attention of the AD’s of Clemson and Oklahoma, easily two of the nation’s top ten programs historically and two of the five best today. Scheduling either would be difficult, as the soonest open slots shared between the two schools (2029 and 2030) come in years in which Clemson is already slated to play Georgia and South Carolina, so it would be understandable for the Tigers to not want to face three SEC teams in one year. Coincidentally, Oklahoma doesn’t have an open slot to fill until 2029-30 either. So matchups with those two schools may have to wait a little while.

But nevertheless, Stricklin has already proven that when he publicly states an intention to do something, he means business. Even though some of the home and homes he’s scheduled are definitely less intriguing than others, he’s made his point. Florida needs to be playing fellow Power Five schools for the good of the Gator program, the other program, and college football as a whole.

And thanks to him, fans of all of the above are about to get their wish.

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