All eyes on Central Florida for week zero Kickoff Classic

The first Camping World Kickoff Classic in 2017 between Florida State and Ole Miss drew 65,000 fans, and drew a huge national television audience on ESPN to set the stage for future Kickoff Classics, including Saturday’s Miami-Florida game.

Florida Citrus Sports, the membership-based organization that sponsors two college football bowl games at Camping World Stadium each year, uses the motto “Big Time” to describe its events.

And perhaps one of the biggest “Big Time” events in the organization’s near 70-year history will happen next weekend as the University of Miami will square off with the Florida Gators in the third edition of the Camping World Kickoff Classic, Saturday, Aug. 24, at 7 p.m.

Originally scheduled for Week One of the college football season, Florida Citrus Sports and ESPN lobbied and were granted permission from the NCAA to move this game to Aug. 24, earning the unofficial moniker of “Week Zero”. 

“Traditionally we’ve hosted some really great college football games that have garnered a lot of national attention in Florida Citrus Sports history. The 1994 neutral site game between Florida State and Notre Dame, the 1991 Citrus Bowl Game where Georgia Tech won a share of the national championship, and our first Kickoff Classic a few years ago when we paired Florida State with Ole Miss are prime examples,” FC Sports Executive Director Steve Hogan said.  “But I’ll admit this game has a little different buzz about it in terms of both prestige and national interest. It’s potentially one of the biggest college football games ever played in Orlando.”

Many factors support the notion.

First, the national attention the game will receive makes it bigger than a normal opener. It is one of just Division 1 games that weekend (Hawaii is hosting Arizona at 10:30 p.m. that night) and given that it is the only one in prime time game featuring two teams with national brands, the eyes of the college football world will be focused on Central Florida next Saturday. 

ESPN has added to that excitement by announcing its Game Day Crew will broadcast from Disney on Saturday leading up to the game.

The contest – at least for one year – resumes one of the most bitter and hard fought rivalries in college football history. Miami and Florida had previously played every year from 1938 to 1987, but this will be only the third meeting since a four-game series that concluded in 2004.

When the yearly series ended in 1987, which coincided with the Hurricanes’ seventh win in the last nine games, there was more than a little bitterness from Miami fans. 

In a 1987 Orlando Sentinel article, columnist Brian Schmitz wrote a scathing article critical of Florida’s decision to drop the Hurricanes from their annual schedule.  Schmitz – arguing that is was a great series with a great history that needed to be preserved – felt the rivalry should be continued and was not buying the official Florida explanation that they were not renewing the series because they wanted to pursue a more “national” schedule.

Other than resuming the series and the being the only prime time college football game on television, there is also the interest in the momentum that each team appears to be building entering 2019. 

After several down years, Florida won 10 games under first-year head coach Dan Mullen in 2018 and enters the season ranked in the top 15. Miami, which recently hired Manny Diaz to replace the retiring Mark Richt, features an exciting young defense that yearns to return to national prominence.  The two schools have combined for eight national championships. 

Florida Citrus Sports does not have to worry about the normal things associated with hosting a bowl game, like practice schedules, official team hotels, entertainment and special events (the teams will arrive in Orlando the afternoon before the game and leave immediately after), but Hogan noted there were still a lot obstacles to putting together Miami-Florida game.

“There are about a hundred moving parts putting these games together and it certainly does not happen overnight,” Hogan said. “We start working on these games at least four years in advance. You have to make sure schedules match up, and then there are the negotiations to handle between the teams, with their conferences, your television partners, the NCAA and your sponsors. In general we try to put together two teams with national appeal but we also want one of them to be in our region.  This year, we were fortunate to get two national brands that happened to both be from the state of Florida.”

Hogan added the benefits to hosting a game of this stature far outweigh the intensive efforts it takes to put one on.

 “We’re going to have a lot of local fans of both schools attend this game, but we will also have a many fans from outside the immediate area that will come in and stay a couple of days,” Hogan noted. “It’s estimated that this game will have an economic impact of between $30 and $60 million for the area and that is a huge plus for our community, especially this time of year. But that’s only half the story.  This broadcast and the accompanying publicity generated from this game is really a huge commercial for Camping World, Orlando, Central Florida, and Florida Citrus Sports -- and the value of that is something that gets overlooked a lot.” 

No tickets remain for public sale (a few Florida Citrus Sports memberships are available that include a ticket to the UF-Miami game), but the excitement this game is generating can be seen in the secondary ticket market where 50-yard line seats are going for as much as $940 each and upper level seats are selling in the $250 range.