Photo courtesy of Jeremy Esbrandt/Florida State athletics
Ever since conference realignment and expansion have become a large part of the news cycle, the movement of conferences to a more regionally central conference has taken storm.
Although conferences are mainly sorted by region, some exceptions apply. West Virginia is in the Big 12 despite being over 1,300 miles away from Austin, home of the Texas Longhorns. Pittsburgh calls the ACC home, despite being almost 900 miles north of Florida State.
In some cases, ideas have been pushed to remedy such a situation. Instead of forcing teams to sometimes travel 1,000 miles for conference games, conferences could become centralized in certain areas. For example, all the Texas teams, plus Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, could form one giant conference. Out west, the Pac-12 could become strictly California, Oregon and Washington schools.
In the case of Florida, combining the seven FBS programs along with the three schools in the FCS could produce one power conference capable of some fun games and exciting rivalries. We examine what that may look like:
Currently the southernmost team in the ACC, the Miami Hurricanes moved from the Big East in 2004. The Hurricanes are currently five-time national champions, capturing their last title in 2001. In 2019, the Hurricanes finished 7-6, losing to Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl. Despite the poor 2019, the Hurricanes have continued to recruit well and will look to push towards their first ACC championship ever. Their biggest rivalry is Florida State.
In 1992, the Florida State Seminoles joined the ACC after being an independent. Since joining the ACC, the Seminoles have captured 15 ACC crowns with their most recent coming in 2014. In that time, the Seminoles have also won three national championships, including one in 2013. The Seminoles are currently the only Florida school to play in the College Football Playoff. In 2019, the Seminoles finished 6-7 with a loss to Arizona State in the Sun Bowl. Under new leadership in Mike Norvell, the Seminoles may be primed for a return to the top of college football. The Seminoles’ biggest rival is Florida.
The Florida Gators have called the SEC home since 1933 when they moved from the Southern Conference. The Gators were most successful under head coach Urban Meyer in the mid-2000s, when they captured two national championships with the latter coming behind Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Tim Tebow. In 2019, Florida won the Orange Bowl and finished with 11 wins. Under Dan Mullen, the Gators are likely to continue recruiting well as they continue to make a push towards an SEC Championship berth.
UCF joined the American Athletic Conference from Conference USA in 2013, where it has stood ever since. Since joining The American, UCF has made six bowl games, including three New Year’s Six games. In 2017, UCF finished with a perfect 13-0 record and claimed a national championship in the process. Although the Knights have experienced a minor step back since that point, they are likely to continue their rise to the top of college football with strong coaching and recruiting. UCF’s biggest rival is South Florida.
Under former head coach Lane Kiffin, Florida Atlantic has become one of Conference USA’s top programs. Under Kiffin, FAU won 27 games, including two conference championships and two Boca Raton Bowl wins. Sitting in a prime recruiting location, FAU is in prime position to take the next step in the future under new head coach Willie Taggart. FAU’s biggest rival is Florida International.
Florida International joined Conference USA from the Sun Belt in 2013. While in Conference USA, the Panthers have experienced a change of fortunes under Butch Jones, who took over the team’s head coaching position in 2017. Since 2017, FIU has clinched three different bowl games, including a 9-4 season and a Bahamas Bowl win in 2018. Like FAU, the Panthers sit in a prime recruiting location and will push towards a 10-win season, which would be the first in the program’s history.
Like UCF, USF joined The American in 2013 and has since experienced a mixed bag of results. After never doing so previously, the Bulls finished the season ranked in 2016 and 2017. As a member of the AAC, South Florida has made four bowl games. South Florida collected Birmingham Bowl wins in 2016 and 2017. In 2019, USF finished with just four wins, leading to the firing of head coach Charlie Strong. With former Clemson offensive coordinator Jeff Scott now in charge, the Bulls will look to develop into a consistent threat in the AAC.
One of three FCS programs in the conference, the Florida A&M Rattlers have experienced a resurgence of sorts. Although the Rattlers were banned from postseason play in 2019, head coach Willie Simmons led the Rattlers to a 9-4 record. With a 7-1 conference MEAC record, the Rattlers sat atop of their conference at season’s end. Located in Tallahassee, the Florida A&M campus is located just over a mile away from Florida State. In 2020 and beyond, the Rattlers will look for their first win in the Florida Classic since 2010. That’s the name of their annual rivalry with Bethune-Cookman.
Since taking over the head coaching position in 2015, Terry Sims has led the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats to be a consistent winning program in the MEAC and FCS. In Sims’ first season, Bethune-Cookman finished as co-MEAC champions after finishing with a 7-1 conference record. Bethune-Cookman is located in Daytona Beach and plays its home games at Daytona Stadium, which seats just over 9,000 people. After losing five of the previous six, the Wildcats have won nine straight over arch-rival Florida A&M.
After a 57-year hiatus, the Stetson Hatters football program was revived in 2013. Since 2013, the Hatters saw winning seasons in 2018 and 2019. In 2018, the Hatters finished with an 8-2 record and a 6-2 record in the Pioneer Football League, which was good enough for second in the conference. The Hatters play their home games at Spec Martin Stadium in DeLand. The Hatters are coached by Roger Hughes.
Obviously, the FCS teams would likely not survive in the FBS, especially in a conference where they would have to play three Power 5 schools and multiple Group of 5 schools that are on the rise. However, in this hypothetical, let’s imagine they are able to survive.
The early favorites to win the conference would likely be the Florida Gators, who were the state’s most successful team in 2019. However, keep an eye on UCF, FAU, and Miami, who could all compete for the conference championship with a strong season.
In the future, Florida, Florida State, and Miami would likely rise to the top of the standings most years. Since all three schools are Power 5 programs, the facilities, name value, and the advantage in recruiting would likely push them to the top of this hypothetical conference.