Why Florida-UCF aren’t playing in the Peach Bowl

Did the United States really put a man on the moon? Is the government trying to control us with chemtrails in the sky? Is the Earth really flat? You don’t need to go far to find a conspiracy theory and once you do it’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole only to emerge a week later not knowing which way is up. Florida Athletic Director Scott Stricklin is here to help you sleep a little easier tonight by putting a new conspiracy theory to rest.

This conspiracy wasn’t political or about the illuminati, although some college football fans believe in an old world order that was trying to pull strings behind the curtain.

The theory that started in Orlando and among UCF fans on social media was that Florida would do everything in its power not to play UCF. The Knights have a nation high 25-game winning streak, a claimed National Championship and, along with winning the American Athletic Conference with a 12-0 record, secured a trip to a New Year’s Six Bowl game. UCF was not ranked in the top four teams so it would not be in the playoff. When the bowl games were announced Florida and Michigan were sent packing to Atlanta and the Peach Bowl while UCF and LSU would head west to the Fiesta Bowl. UCF fans cried foul. Florida’s Athletic Director Scott Stricklin was on the College Football Playoff Selection committee; surely he didn’t want his mighty Gators to lose to UCF. He must have orchestrated this scenario.

There’s some conspiracy theorists out there that like to imagine how things work. It’s pure fantasy,” Stricklin said on Friday afternoon.

Well, how does the committee work? Why wouldn’t the committee matchup Florida and UCF. The game sells itself. Michigan and LSU are two of the winningest programs in college football history and, somehow, they’ve never played each other. That would be another game that seemingly sells itself, so, the question begs to be asked, what gives?

CEP and President of the Peach Bowl, Gary Stokan, provided insight.

“With respect to us, the Fiesta and the Cotton, we’re access bowls,” Stokan began. Typically, nothing is written as far as I can understand, we understand that we’re going to take the Group of 5 champion one time and then the other bowl will take them the next time and the third year of the cycle the Cotton Bowl has to take them because us and the Fiesta both are hosting semifinals. So next year the Group of 5 champion will go to the Fiesta because that’s the only access point they have because the other bowls have contracts.”

The Rose bowl is contracted to take the B1G champion. If the B1G champion is in the playoff they take the next highest ranked B1G team. They also take the Pac 12 champion, if that team is in the playoff they take the next highest ranked Pac 12 team. The same goes for the Sugar Bowl with the SEC.

With Stricklin having allegiance to Florida he was required to leave the room whenever the selection committee discussed the Gators. That was true for all five meetings in Dallas when the committee met. It was true the last time the teams met. After the four playoff teams were selected the Rose and Sugar Bowls selected their matchups. That left four teams — LSU, UCF, Florida and Michigan. Stricklin was asked to leave the room. When he returned to the room the committee had selected the final two games for the four teams.

“The bowls don’t get to politic. The schools don’t get to politic. It’s a very pure process from that standpoint. The great beauty of it is we get great matchups. If it had been us against UCF that would have been a great matchup,” Stricklin said. “We’re blessed that it’s us and Michigan because that’s a great matchup. We’re fortunate to be in the New Year’s Six. It’s a great honor and doesn’t really matter who you play at that point.”

Stokan said there is an agreement between the three access bowls (Fiesta, Cotton, Peach) that they will rotate the Group of 5 champion (who is guaranteed a New Year’s Six bowl berth). The Cotton Bowl is a playoff game this year, which excluded UCF and the Peach hosted them the previous year, so Fiesta it is.

There was no conspiracy to keep UCF away from UCF and, in fact, Stricklin told the Orlando Sentinel that he would consider scheduling UCF in the future. In the story UCF Athletic Director Danny White (brother of Florida basketball coach Mike White) says he wouldn’t be interested in a one-off game. He has set a standard of scheduling hone-and-home series. Florida has not agreed to a home-and-home with a non Power 5 school and rarely plays away games with non-conference opponents given it’s annual matchup with FSU.

“I’m encouraged to hear that UF is open to the idea of playing us in football. Since I’ve been here, it had been made clear to me there wasn’t much hope of that,” White’s statement read. “Our scheduling philosophy has been transparent since I arrived at UCF — that we’re open to a home-and-home series with any non-conference Power 6 opponent. Top 10 programs don’t schedule two-for-one series where the balance is not in their favor. Our growing fanbase and our student-athletes deserve better than that. However, It sounds as though a single game could be an option and I’d bet there are plenty of neutral-site locations that would love to host a game of that magnitude. Perhaps we could work out a three-game series, with a home-and-home and a neutral site involved. I’m excited to follow up with Scott and his team to see if we can make this happen. It would be great for college football in the Sunshine State!”

A game between the two top-ranked teams in the state of Florida won’t happen this year or in the near future, but for a day, the conspiracy theory that Florida was scared to play UCF can be put to bed.

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Nick de la Torre
A South Florida native, Nick developed a passion for all things sports at a very young age. His love for baseball was solidified when he saw Al Leiter’s no-hitter for the Marlins live in May of 1996. He was able to play baseball in college but quickly realized there isn’t much of a market for short, slow outfielders that hit around the Mendoza line. Wanting to continue with sports in some capacity he studied journalism at the University of Central Florida. Nick got his first start in the business as an intern for a website covering all things related to the NFL draft before spending two seasons covering the Florida football team at Bleacher Report. That job led him to GatorCountry. When he isn’t covering Gator sports, Nick enjoys hitting way too many shots on the golf course, attempting to keep up with his favorite t.v. shows and watching the Heat, Dolphins and Marlins. Follow him on twitter @NickdelatorreGC