Whitley: UCF may regret getting its wish with Florida Gators
HOOVER, Ala. — There’s nothing better than a little trash talk to kick off the football season. So on behalf of media and fans, I’d like to thank Zach Carter for this nugget:
“I think it will be good to show them who runs the state of Florida.”
Carter was speaking at SEC Media Days, but he wasn’t talking about an SEC opponent. He was also speaking on behalf of countless Florida fans who’ve heard just about enough.
The object of their ire is UCF, where half the fans probably feel the SEC is beneath them. They might consider membership in the NFC East.
As such, there were a lot of things worth discussing Monday — Emory Jones, fixing the defense, the orange-and-blue Air Jordans Dan Mullen wore with his blue suit. But the biggest news out of UF recently has been the series with the Knights.
It’s on, baby!
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Well, the contract hasn’t been signed, but that’s just a formality unless Danny White is suddenly rehired as UCF’s athletic director. He’s the one who insisted the Gators and Knights play a home-and-home series.
Florida wanted two home games in Gainesville and one in Orlando. For a variety of reasons, it doesn’t play home-and-home games with non-Power Five conference teams. That’s a longstanding policy.
UCF’s policy since 2017 is to be the most annoying program in America.
That’s when the Knights went undefeated, got shut out of the playoffs, beat Auburn in the Peach Bowl and, like Leonardo DiCaprio in “Titanic,” declared themselves Kings of the World.
It became true in a way. If they gave a national championship for bluster, UCF would be Alabama. Florida became a target when the Knights were sent to the Fiesta Bowl in 2018 and the Gators played in the Peach Bowl.
UCF fans accused Scott Stricklin of engineering the matchups so the Gators wouldn’t have to face Josh Heupel’s mean machine. Since then, fans from both schools have had a running war in chat rooms and on message boards.
Knights — “You’re afraid of us!
Gators — “Go fetch my beer."
UCF’s feelings are understandable. Its football program has advance about 50 years over the past decade. The Knights really are as good as at least half the Power Five teams in America.
Things looked a bit grim in January when White went to Tennessee and took Heupel with him, but UCF actually upgraded its staff when it brought in Terry Mohajir as AD and Gus Malzahn as coach.
Gator fans aren’t too keen on White, but his policy of annoyance was brilliant. It made UCF a national name and probably expedited the move toward a 12-team playoff.
Mohajir and Malzahn are continuing White’s policy of doing everything possible to get noticed. Billboards declaring X number of miles to the “Future of College Football” popped up in Gainesville, Tallahassee, Miami and other locales this spring.
But in his relentless drive to make UCF consequential, White lost touch with the natural order of the college football universe. On a good day, UCF doesn’t have half the home attendance that Florida has.
The Knights can claim one faux national championship. Florida can claim three real ones.
UF in Bounce House is a coup for UCF
Getting the Gators in the Bounce House one time would be a coup, even if it meant playing three or four games in Gainesville. UCF has a lot more to gain and Florida has a lot more to lose in any game they will ever play.
White had staked his position and wasn’t backing down. Mohajir and Malzahn have a better grip on reality.
Malzahn called Mullen shortly after he got hired and asked about playing, and Mullen explained UF’s position.
“He’s like, ‘I’m for that, too,’” Mullen said. “I’m like, ‘Call the ADs.’ I think it’s great for the state of Florida.”
The guy Mohajir really should call is White, and he should propose a home-and-home between UCF and Tennessee. If UCF won’t do it, Memphis should give it serious try.
It would be interesting to see if White still thinks an SEC school that packs 90,000-plus into its stadium should play a home-and-home against a team that’s not in a Power Five conference.
I suspect White’s scheduling philosophy would sound a lot more like Stricklin’s, but that’s not our concern. The only downside to the UCF-UF series is the games are in 2024, 2030 and 2033.
We’ll have three more years of internet warfare without anything being settled. But on some Saturday in 2024, the trash talking will end and we’ll see who really runs the state of Florida.
I know which team I'd bet on.
— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow him on Twitter: @DavidEWhitley