Despite featuring a solid matchup between an 8-win Duke squad and a 9-4 UCF team that was a game away from the Cotton Bowl, the Military Bowl had its lowest attendance since San Jose State played Bowling Green in 2012, when 17,835 fans watched those schools play.
The 17,974 fans at yesterday’s game was the lowest attendance since the game moved to the Naval Academy in 2013. Of course, there are a variety of reasons for this, but the main one may have been due to UCF being the first Florida school to play in the game.
UCF’s last non-New Year’s Six Bowl appearance outside of the state of Florida was all the way back in 2010 when they played in the Liberty Bowl as Conference USA champions. Even then, the Liberty Bowl’s history and tradition dwarfs that of the Military Bowl.
Convincing UCF fans to go from Florida to the tough Winter climate of Annapolis was just as tough a sell as anticipated. However, weather was not the only factor as the widespread Southwest flight cancellations likely impacted several UCF fans.
The Naval Academy’s rich history and scenery makes it a great tourist attraction, but UCF’s visit to Annapolis last year may have diminished the charm of the Military Bowl.
While UCF leaves the American after this season, USF remains in the conference and Florida Atlantic will join them next year. The AAC likes to place its best non-New Year’s Six teams in the Military Bowl to play an ACC team, but it’s hard to imagine the conference opting to send FAU or USF to Annapolis.
Instead, if FAU or USF are near the top of the conference, it is more realistic for the AAC to send them to the Gasparilla Bowl to play a Power Five team instead.
On paper, UCF-Duke was a solid matchup. Had the matchup taken place in a Florida bowl, the turnout may have been a lot better. However, UCF fans were forced to a cold destination amid crippling flight cancellations leading to startling attendance numbers.