At SEC Meetings in Destin, Fla., Tuesday, Florida head coach Will Muschamp dropped a bit of a news bomb on unsuspecting reporters, stating that his Gators will no longer play FCS opponents moving forward. Like many SEC of its SEC brethren, Florida starts its conference slate in mid-September and then plays an FCS foe as sort of a working bye week in preparation for its annual tussle with Florida State.
Florida hosts Eastern Kentucky on Nov. 22 of this season, suffered its now infamous loss to Georgia Southern on Nov. 23 of last season, and beat Jacksonville State on Nov. 17, 2012. The line goes on and on from there. According to FBSchedules.com, Florida does not have an FCS game lined up for 2015 and beyond, so this year's game with the Colonels should be the last of its kind.
Asked why Florida planned to drop FCS opponents, Muschamp said, "The fan base wants to see better opponents." Attendance has stagnated across college football, and officials from across college football have cited a number of reasons why, ranging from lack of quality opponents to bad cell reception inside stadiums.
Improving the quality of opponent Florida brings into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium will certainly appease the fan base, I'm just not sure Florida is actually going to accomplish that goal in this case.
Several decades of history plus common sense tells us Florida will replace its annual FCS pre-Thanksgiving appetizer with an opponent from the MAC or Sun Belt. The Gators have signed to play a neutral site game with Michigan to open the 2017 season, and has discussed doing the same with Miami. It makes sense to play those games... in September and August, not in between South Carolina and Florida State.
In reality, Florida will trade Jacksonville State and Eastern Kentucky for Akron and Louisiana-Monroe. I threw out a question on Twitter if the average fan would even consider than an upgrade. The answer? Among this admittedly flawed focus group, a resounding no.
What's the solution here? Do you bring in an A or B-level non-conference opponent and truly capture your fan base's attention, or do you continue to schedule with the idea of winning a national championship in mind? Clearly the answer is the latter, which means that pre-Thanksgiving Saturday will remain stuck squarely between "rock" and "hard place", except now the Gators will have to shelve out a larger guarantee fee.