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Florida State seeking tougher non-conference opponents

FSU officials have gotten more aggressive with their non-conference scheduling.

Florida State football fans have always struggled with the volume of cupcakes on the schedule. But the past seven months have seen a major shift in the scheduling philosophy.

Florida State has been more aggressive recently when it comes to non-conference scheduling, booking games against Oklahoma State (2014), Notre Dame (2014), South Florida (2015-16) and Boise State (2019-20).

While the non-conference schedule is full through 2015, Florida State officials are planning beyond that and are trying to book opponents and venues.

Senior associate athletic director Monk Bonasorte, who does the majority of the football scheduling, says he is looking at a variety of neutral-site games in the future. Among the options are season-opening games in Atlanta, Orlando, Jacksonville and Houston.

"There are some great opportunities," Bonasorte said.

Orlando is remodeling the Citrus Bowl, a project expected to be done in two years. And Jacksonville is also planning new end-zone scoreboards and activity areas.

Florida State has been an attractive sell in both cities. The Seminoles defeated Alabama in 2007 before 85,412 fans in Jacksonville. A few years later, the Gator Bowl between Florida State and West Virginia drew 84,129 fans in Bobby Bowden’s final game as Seminoles coach. And Florida State played Notre Dame before a packed Citrus Bowl of 68,305 in Orlando in the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl.

Neutral-site games are advantageous for two reasons. First, they are extremely lucrative -- Florida State will receive $3.5 million to play Oklahoma State in Arlington, Texas, in 2014. And, second, a neutral-site game at Orlando or Jacksonville will put the team close to large alumni groups in both central and north Florida.

Those types of high-profile games -- home, away or on neutral sites -- are more attractive to discerning college football fans.

In recent years, Seminoles fans have endured September games against the likes of Charleston Southern, Savannah State, Samford and Murray State (Florida State routed those teams by a combined 245-19). Many fans objected to buying season tickets or multi-game packages to see Florida State play two Football Championship Subdivision teams in 2012, games that were essentially over the moment they were scheduled.

The 2013 schedule features just one FCS opponent, Bethune-Cookman, along with non-conference games against Florida, Nevada and Idaho. In 2014, Florida State will play Oklahoma State, Notre Dame, Florida and The Citadel.

Florida State president Dr. Eric Barron and athletics department officials have heard from a high volume of alumni and fans that want the school to schedule tougher home opponents.

Coach Jimbo Fisher had been reluctant to do so, arguing that playing Florida each year along with the ACC slate of opponents was challenging enough.

But in November he railed against the computer components of the BCS that held the Seminoles low in the rankings despite having just one loss (a second came in the regular-season finale against Florida). One problem was that when West Virginia backed out on Florida State, the Seminoles were forced to take Savannah State. That meant that 2012 games against Murray State and Savannah State, both FCS schools, brought down Florida State’s strength of schedule and hurt them in the computer rankings.

So Florida State administrators have been active in building tougher future schedules. And Florida State’s 2014 schedule is loaded. The Seminoles will open against Oklahoma State at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, host Florida, Notre Dame and Clemson and travel to Miami.

Florida State has booked a home-and-home series with South Florida in 2015 (in Tallahassee) and 2016 (in Tampa). And the Seminoles will host Boise State in 2019 and travel to face the Broncos in 2020. 

Bonasorte said he’s working on a neutral-site 2016 game as well as other matchups down the road.

The stronger schedules are a clear indication that Florida State is adjusting to both the demands of fans and voters in the various college football polls, especially with a playoff that begins with the 2014 season.

Contact Bob Ferrante at bobferrante17@gmail.com or on Twitter @bobferrante