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June 17, 2014

Dream non-conference matchups for UF

What's June good for in college football if not a little hypothetical discussion and fantasy scheduling? The Southeastern Conference is pushing its teams toward more difficult out-of-conference slates to go along with a conference schedule that remains at eight games. There are plenty of reasons why that will not lead to one marquee matchup after another -- a desire for seven home games, scheduling conflicts, etc -- but ITG is here to work a little outside reality and find the most exciting non-conference games possible.

Yes, the game just happened in 2013. Yes, there are talks about a one-off game at a neutral site in the distant future. But, strength of schedule be damned, this is a game that should be played every year. The natural rivalry is there with grandstanding by the Hurricanes' administration to pressure the Gators into a series and conflicts on the recruiting trail. All that's missing is an annual on-field familiarity between the players to give the matchup the kind of edge Florida-FSU has. Miami certainly needs the game more than Florida, but a regular series is the only way to give the state's "Big Three" a yearly winner.

The Gators and Tigers have not played since 1961 - Florida leading the all-time series 9-3-1 - and yet look around any UF message board or talk to die-hard fans, and you'll find plenty of disdain for Clemson. Most of it stems from recruiting. The Gators and Tigers have banged heads and found themselves in numerous battles over the years when it comes to top-tier prospects. Most recently, they were at the center of drama as Demarcus Robinson flipped from one to the other multiple times. Clemson's wide-open offense has been used as an effective pitch. It's now up to Florida and Kurt Roper to catch up.

Sure, California may have something to say about it, but Florida and Texas have long been the first two states that come to mind when people think about high school football. Both schools have the luxury of filling their rosters with elite talent mostly from within the borders of their own state. Both have fallen off a bit in recent years and seen in-state rivals they view as inferior steal the national spotlight. And then there's Charlie Strong. Texas' new head coach spent 16 years as an assistant at Florida but was overlooked in favor of Will Muschamp when the Gators needed a new head coach in 2011. The career trajectory of the two coaches has since been extremely different; Strong landing the job Muschamp was once in line for while Muschamp finds himself on the hot seat in Gainesville. The last time Florida and Texas played? 1940.

Sometimes you just have to find the prettiest girl in school and ask her to dance. There's no history between the Gators and the Ducks. They've played each other once - 1929 - and about the only thing the two schools have in common is Nike uniforms. But if you're looking for marquee matchups in modern college football, Oregon has to be near the top of your list. The Ducks have won 10 or more games in seven consecutive seasons and would create the kind of East-meets-West showcase that is so rare in college football.

Well, yeah. In case you've been on a deserted island for the past five years, there's this guy named Urban Meyer. He used to coach Florida, except the past two seasons he's gone 24-2 at Ohio State. Few who played for Meyer, worked around him, etc., don't have a strong opinion one way or the other about the guy who took a year off of coaching before landing at the program he grew up idolizing. Muschamp has taken subtle potshots at Meyer and the program he left behind during his tenure as the Gators' coach. Imagine Meyer making a return trip to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on the opposing sideline. That's what major athletics should be all about.


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