The inaugural year of the College Football Playoff has taught us one very important lesson: losses matter. Three of the four teams to make the four-team playoff suffered a loss during the regular season, with Florida State boasting the only unblemished record heading into the New Year's Day semifinals. The term "quality loss" became an everyday utterance in the buildup to the playoff, suggesting that maybe the committee would look at the quality of a team's schedule and not just the loss column, or at least be more willing to do so than the polls.
In thinking about the idea of quality losses, and how much credit should be given (or denied) for teams scheduling non-conference games, it is interesting to compare the scheduling by Florida State and Florida over the last quarter century.
Included below is a table dating back to the last time the University of Florida scheduled and won a non-conference road game outside the state of Florida, along with FSU's games of the same ilk during that span. Not included, of course, are bowl games, which teams have no power in scheduling ahead of time.
|None||2014||vs. Oklahoma St. in Arlington, TX (37-31 W)|
|None||2010||at No. 10 Oklahoma (47-17 L)|
|None||2009||at No. 9 BYU (54-28 W)|
|None||2007||at Colorado (16-6 W)|
|None||2004||at Syracuse (17-13 W)|
|None||2003||at Notre Dame (37-0 W)|
|None||2002||vs. Iowa St. in Kansas City, MO (38-31 W)|
|at Louisville (26-20 L)|
|None||1998||vs. No. 14 Texas A&M in East Rutherford, NJ (23-14 W)|
|None||1997||at No. 21 Southern Cal (14-7 W)|
|None||1993||vs. Kansas in East Rutherford, NJ (42-0 W)|
|at No. 2 Notre Dame (31-24 L)|
|at Syracuse (38-21 L)||1991||vs. No. 19 BYU in Anaheim, CA (44-28 W)|
|at No. 3 Michigan (51-31 W)|
|at LSU (27-16 W)|
|at Louisville (40-15 W)|
|None||1990||at Tulane (31-13 W)|
|at No. 5 Auburn (20-17 L)|
|at South Carolina (41-10 W)|
|at Memphis St. (38-13 W)||1989||at No. 21 LSU (31-21 W)|
|at No. 17 Syracuse (41-10 W)|
|at Virginia Tech (41-7 W)|
That's right. Florida has not played an out-of-conference game outside the state of Florida since 1991 and hasn't won one since 1989.
Let's put that into perspective: the last time the Gators scheduled, and beat, a non-conference opponent outside of Florida, the average price of gas in the US, per Energy.gov, was $0.90 a gallon. The number one song, according to Billboard.com, was Milli Vanilli's "Girl I'm Gonna Miss You." And George Bush was still settling into the White House -- the first George Bush.
In that same span of time, Florida State has played outside its home state 22 times against OOC teams, 10 of which were ranked (10 came prior to 1992, when FSU began its ACC football affiliation). Still, the 'Noles have dominated that competition outside of the Sunshine State, amassing a record of 18-4 in such games since 1989.
Every one of those games came against a team now in a Power 5 conference with the exception of Tulane, two contests with BYU in which the Cougars were ranked each time, and a pair of showdowns with Notre Dame, the first of which, of course, earned the billing of "The Game of the Century."
Of those 22 games, 14 came against teams that played in a bowl that year. Florida’s last such contest, a loss at Syracuse, came at the hands of an Orange squad that the ‘Noles beat 46-14.
The last OOC game UF won came against a 2-9 Memphis State team (all the way back when it was still called Memphis State, as opposed to Memphis).
The last non-conference regular-season win for the Gators outside the state of Florida against a team that finished with a winning record? Buckle up, because this one took some digging. It occurred against a 5-3-1 North Carolina State team in Raleigh.
Yes: the most recent UF victory over a winning OOC team outside of Florida came in the same year that FSU began playing college football.
And perhaps that sheds some light on all of this. The truth is that, historically, and, for our purposes here, especially since 1989, the Gators have had enough trouble holding their own in non-conference, in-state games against the other members of Florida's big three. In that stretch, UF is 12-15-1 against FSU and 1-5 vs. Miami, a combined record of 13-20-1, and these were all games played within Florida, excepting four neutral-site bowl games.
15 of these games even took place in Gainesville.
Based on UF's history of losing non-conference games, especially on the road, and its difficult SEC schedule (albeit more difficult now than it was for the earlier parts of this stretch), UF's scheduling practices have made sense. It has certainly never been penalized for it.
Florida State is continuing to schedule difficult games, with Alabama in 2017 looking likely, road games at Notre Dame in 2018 and 2024, and a trip to Boise State in 2020.
But the Gators will be breaking this ignominious streak in 2017, when they'll travel to Arlington, TX to take on the Michigan Wolverines. With no other non-conference road trips on the schedule, however, it remains to be seen whether Florida will step out of its comfort zone for long.