When Florida announced its upcoming home-and-home series against Colorado, the reaction I saw from Gator fans largely fell into two buckets.
One of them, the crowd I found myself in, expressed excitement over the idea of a road game in Boulder. I’ve not been to the Centennial State before, but I have plenty of family who have including a brother-in-law who lived there for a number of years. I’ve only ever heard good things about it, and it’d be a fun trip if it’s possible to go.
The other greeted the news with a muted reaction. “Colorado? Really? Well, okay then.” The Buffaloes shared the 1990 national championship with Georgia Tech, but they last were a top ten finisher in 2001. They’ve only played in one postseason game since 2007, a 38-8 loss to Oklahoma State in the 2016 Alamo Bowl.
The common thread in both of these reactions is an absence of excitement about Colorado playing in the Swamp.
The whole reason why Florida is starting to schedule P5 home-and-homes is flagging home attendance and the fact that there are only so many neutral sites to go around. Other largely homebound prestige programs are doing the same. People are less willing to show up to watch a team like UF truck a team like Colorado State, and it’s shown up in attendance numbers and empty seat photos across the nation. A series against a blue blood like Texas will do the trick, and Florida announced such a series. Here’s my question though: is a team of the stature of Colorado a sufficient upgrade to draw fans to the game?
To try to answer that, I did some quick market research in the only way I really can: a Twitter poll. I asked Gator fans to tell me if the Buffaloes were enough of an improvement over a Group of 5 or FCS team to make them more likely to attend the home leg of the deal in 2028.
If you're a Gator fan, are you more likely to attend a home game in the Swamp that's against Colorado than one against a G5/FCS cupcake?
— David Wunderlich (@Year2) May 8, 2019
I got 1,033 answers from people choosing something other than the “just show me the results” option I included to keep non-Gator fans from having to pollute the main options with spurious votes just to satisfy curiosity.
Among that thousand people and change, 731 of them (71%) said they were more likely to go to the Swamp to see Colorado instead of a traditional overmatched non-conference opponent. There were 209 (20%) who said they were not more likely to show up to see the Gators play the Buffaloes over a cupcake, while 93 (9%) said they either always, never, or can’t attend home games regardless of opponent.
Now, Twitter polls have their shortcomings. They’re not scientific, and it’s far cheaper to vote in a poll nine years ahead of the event than it will be to buy tickets and make travel arrangements for people who don’t live in or around Gainesville. Furthermore, “more likely” could mean someone is 20% likely to come to UF vs. CU versus 5% likely to come to UF vs. FAU. That’s four times better of a chance, but it also means the odds are four-in-five that they don’t attend. It could also work the other way, with someone 80% likely to see a paycheck beatdown and 85% likely to come see the Buffaloes.
Still, there is a little validation here that Colorado will get more people in the stands than a cupcake would. The draw must be based entirely on CU’s status as a Pac-12 and therefore Power 5 opponent, as the team hasn’t been that exciting lately. Even the ten-win team of 2016 was frequently unwatchable, as evidenced by results like their 10-5 win over Stanford (AP recap headline: “Sloppy Colorado holds off equally bad Stanford 10-5”).
With the way that power programs can chew through head coaches, Colorado could be two or three guys removed from the newly-hired Mel Tucker by the time it visits Gainesville. There’s no guarantee that the Buffs won’t continue winning four or five games more often than anything else between now and then.
But even with that being CU’s recent track record right now, seven out of ten Gator fans who happened upon my poll told me that they see Colorado as a noticeably more enticing home opponent than a non-Power 5 team. They said that even though there are a number of Group of 5 teams (and even one or two FCS programs like North Dakota State and James Madison) that would be more likely to give the Gators a good game than Colorado is.
But, that’s how the college football mindset works. For a Power 5 team, it’s better to line up a fellow Power 5 opponent — even one that’s perpetually a marginal bowl team, if that — than risk losing to a better team that happens to be outside the P5.
So, even though there wasn’t a lot of excitement other than of visions of the Flatirons in the distance beyond Folsom Field, it does appear that a team of Colorado’s stature will be able to bring more Gators to the Swamp than a cupcake will. We’ll see if that changes as Florida plays more of these P5 home-and-homes. Not all of them can be marquee matchups like the one against the Longhorns.
For now though, the novelty of seeing literally almost any P5 non-conference opponent besides FSU or Miami play in Gainesville — even one with no history with the Gators and no recent run of success — is enough to get people more excited about coming to a home game than they otherwise would be. If this feeling really does manifest as considerably more butts in the seats, then it’ll be a validation of this new experiment with series of a kind that UF swore off for nearly 40 years.