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December 19, 2013

Gators to play in 2017 Cowboys Classic



Homebodies no longer, the Gators have planned a major non-conference game outside of their home state.

Florida will open its 2017 football season by playing in the Cowboys Classic on Sept. 2 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Gators will take on the Michigan Wolverines of the Big Ten Conference, UF officially announced Thursday morning.

"You don't get these opportunities very often,'' Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said in an official statement. "Our schedule has been pretty consistent through the years. We were presented this opportunity and just thought it was something that our fans would embrace, our program would embrace. It would give us great national visibility. Obviously, a very difficult ballgame against a storied program -- that excites us."

It will be Florida's first regular season non-conference game outside of its home state since Sept. 21, 1991, against Syracuse. The Gators - then ranked No. 5 - lost 38-21 to the No. 17 Orangemen.

The nearly 26-year gap in between has been almost solely based around Florida's desire to play seven home games per season, not including an annual neutral site game against Georgia 83 minutes away in Jacksonville.

Foley expressed as much recently when Florida made it clear it had no plans of extending the UF-Miami rivalry past 2013's game between the two sides at Sun Life Stadium.

"I think when you are presented with unique opportunities you need to look at it for your fans' sake, for your program's sake,'' Foley said. "It's something we will not do on a consistent basis because we like playing seven home games. Seven home games are obviously important to our program, important to the city of Gainesville. It will be very much the exception, not the rule, but to sit here and totally close the door on these opportunities just doesn't make sense."

According to a Michigan press release, Florida will be considered the home team for the game and referees from the Big 12 Conference will be used.

Formerly known as Cowboys Stadium, AT&T Stadium was opened in 2009 and cost $1.3 billion to build. It seats 80,000 but can hold as many as 105,000 with expansive space for standing-room only tickets to be sold.

Foley said the venue as well as the city was a major draw for the Gators choosing this specific game as one in which they would like to take part.

"It will give fans a great experience to get away, follow the Gators and start the season," Foley said. "We just haven't done much of this, certainly as long as I've been athletic director. I think there are a lot of positives that come out of it."


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