Pop quiz time, college football fans: name the two FBS teams in the state of Florida who have NOT had a losing record in each of the last three seasons.
Give up? Here’s a hint: neither of the answers is any of the big three programs of Miami, FSU or Florida.
If you guessed the UCF Knights and FAU Owls, you would be correct - and also be shaking your head at what the state of football in Florida has become.
While it’s been cute for some to crack jokes about UCF claiming a national title for the 2017 season and the off-field antics from Boca Raton of their former head coach, the fact of the matter is that both teams have a legit shot to do something special during the 2020 season.
Win their conferences? Most likely. Make a New Years Six bowl game? Maybe. Become the first Group of Five conference team to make the College Football Playoff? With a year like we’ve had so far, you can’t say no. Here’s a look at the rest of the FBS teams in the Sunshine State.
After two straight seasons making it to a New Years Six bowl game, the men from outside Orlando started off the season looking like they would make a return with three straight convincing wins - followed by a regular season that ended with three losses by a combined seven points.
The Knights ended the year with a Gasparilla Bowl win that gave them three straight 10+ win seasons for the first time in program history.
Can UCF live up to expectations of being a College Football Playoff caliber team? UCF, like most teams, is going to play a shortened schedule due to the pandemic with their season starting September 19th. Some think the Knights could sniff the playoffs, but a tough schedule with road games at Memphis, Houston and the finale at rival USF has them ripe for at least one upset.
October 17th at Memphis: The Tigers are coming into this game as the defending conference champs, taking that title from the Knights, and could easily solidify their spot in the 2020 version of this game with a win. You will know very quickly if the Knights are a true title contender before Halloween this season.
Florida Atlantic Owls
It was a tale of two teams last season for the Owls – a team that got outscored 93-35 in the first two games against ranked foes followed by a team that won nine of their next 10 games before taking the Conference USA title in a blowout win over UAB.
After the game, head coach Lane Kiffin packed up for Ole Miss but the Owls stayed the course and remained perfect in the postseason with a Boca Raton Bowl win.
Can Willie Taggart restore his name with a solid coaching job? Some in the fan base of Florida State might be screaming right now, but the fact of the matter is that Taggart was notorious for taking bad programs and turning them into winners before his time in Tallahassee. Now, can he keep the Owls a team winning their conference and be able to be a winner without the rebuilding job?
October 3rd vs. Charlotte: The 49ers are the team predicted to knock the Owls out of the top spot in the C-USA East Division, so the showdown in Boca might end up being for all the marbles.
Last season, the Owls got a convincing win on the road and would love to get one step closer to hosting the conference title game once again.
If you’re wondering why we didn’t mention the Bulls in talking about teams competing in the state of Florida…well, that’s because they weren’t that good to end last season.
USF was able to even their record at 3-3 before losing five of their final six contests, including blowout losses to Memphis and UCF, that ended up costing head coach Charlie Strong his job.
Can new head coach Jeff Scott get the Bulls back to being a .500 team? Scott comes in with a good pedigree as a coach, both from his time as an assistant at Clemson during their title runs and his father being the offensive coordinator when FSU won the title in 1993.
That being said, the schedule will quickly awaken Scott to the thought that this is going to be an uphill climb if he wants to be a winner in Tampa.
October 3rd at Cincinnati: The Bulls are scheduled to play 11 games this regular season and got the bright idea to play Notre Dame on the road in non-conference along with games to end the season including Memphis, Houston and UCF. Translation: if Scott wants to even sniff a winning record, he needs to stock pile as many early on in the year as he can.