Orlando, Football City

While you may have seen a lot around town about Orlando City “futbol,” quietly Orlando has become a destination for major college and pro football games.  Most recently, the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) announced it would be hosting its conference championship game in Orlando at Camping World Stadium (formerly known as the Citrus Bowl) on December 3rd.

 Inaugural Camping World Kickoff  9/5/16                 (Joe Burbank / Orlando Sentinel)

The ACC Championship will likely include a matchup between top rated teams playing for a spot in the College Football Playoffs.  While there’s still plenty of football to play, if the game were held today, it would feature the #3 Clemson Tigers vs the #17 Virginia Tech Hookies.   The first annual Camping World Kickoff was held on Labor Day this year, where the Florida State Seminoles staged a huge second half comeback against the Ole Miss Rebels.  Next year’s game will feature the Alabama Crimson Tide vs the Louisville Cardinals.  The 2018 game will be an inner state showdown between the Florida Gators and Miami Hurricanes.

December is a busy month at Camping World Stadium.  After the ACC Championship game, the best high school teams in the state will gather for their respective division’s state championship games.  The Autonation Bowl on December 17, created in 2014, features a matchup between the Sun Belt Conference and American Athletic Conference, with proceeds going to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. On December 28, the Russell Athletic Bowl will feature a big matchup between the ACC and Big 12.  Last year, Baylor defeated North Carolina and in 2014 Clemson beat Oklahoma.  The Russell Athletic Bowl has been played in Orlando since 2001.

The Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl is one of the longest standing College Football Bowl games, beginning in 1947.  From 1947-1982, the game was originally known as the Tangerine Bowl.   For many years, the game has had a tie-in with ranked schools in the Big Ten and SEC.  In last year’s game, the #14 Michigan Wolverines defeated the #19 Florida Gators.  This year, for the first time in the game’s history, it will take place on New Year’s Eve (December 31), rather than New Year’s Day, due to the CFB Playoffs.

The NFL has also taken interest in Orlando.  The Miami Dolphins played a preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons in August and the Pro Bowl will be played in Orlando on January 29, 2017, which will include a week of football related festivities.  This attention has sparked conversation about Orlando’s future with the NFL.  Orlando is one of the largest markets in the country without an NFL team, but it centrally located between Florida’s three NFL teams in Miami, Tampa Bay and Jacksonville.  Florida Citrus Sports has been in talks with these franchises about future games.

Orlando public officials and the Florida Citrus Sports will cite the the $207 million renovation of Camping World Stadium in 2014, as to what made this all possible. The stadium holds 65,000 attendees for sporting events, includes 6,000 club seat and 33 luxury suites.  The upgrades have modernized the stadium to bring it on par with similar venues around the country.

The next several years of at-large college and NFL football could bring more attention to Orlando as a big game destination.  The UCF Knights are even in discussion with the Big 12 about potentially joining their plans for conference expansion.  What’s next?  How about an annual regular season NFL game between the Buccaneers/Dolphins, Dolphins/Jaguars or Jaguars/Buccaneers?  What about UCF rotating a home game with Florida, Florida State and Miami and playing it at Camping World Stadium?  A College Football National Championship?  A Super Bowl?  The future for football in Orlando has many possibilities.

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