Cowboys Classic juices UF 2017 schedule

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Coming off its first losing season in more than 30 years, Florida is doing all it can to look to a brighter future.

That's why athletic director Jeremy Foley seized the chance to schedule the Cowboys Classic to open the 2017 season against Michigan, a primetime game on national television at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, that both schools announced on Thursday.

"It would give us great national visibility," Foley said in a statement. "Obviously, a very difficult ballgame against a storied program -- that excites us."

While Michigan played in the 2012 Cowboys Classic, and lost 41-14 to Alabama, the Gators are stepping out of character to schedule a nonconference regular-season game at a neutral site.

The 2017 season opener will be Florida's first regular-season, nonconference game since a 38-21 loss at Syracuse in 1991. UF hasn't played a season opener out of state since a 14-10 loss at Houston in 1979.

"I think when you are presented with unique opportunities you need to look at it for your fans' sake, for your program's sake," Foley said. "It's something we will not do on a consistent basis because we like playing seven home games. Seven home games are obviously important to our program, important to the city of Gainesville.

"It will be very much the exception, not the rule, but to sit here and totally close the door on these opportunities just doesn't make sense."

In their long histories, Florida and Michigan have met only twice. The Wolverines won both games -- the Outback Bowl in 2003 (38-30) and the Capital One Bowl in 2008 (41-35).

"The opponent was extremely attractive. The facility, the city, and the national exposure -- I think it will help in recruiting," Foley said. "It will give fans a great experience to get away, follow the Gators and start the season."

They say everything is bigger in Texas, which would explain Jerry Jones' $1.3 billion AT&T Stadium, home to his Dallas Cowboys. The Michigan-Alabama season opener there in 2012 drew 90,413 fans, an attendance record for the five-year history of the Cowboys Classic. The stadium capacity, however, can expand to 105,000 with standing room.

"This is a great opportunity to expose the University of Florida nationally, playing one of the greatest programs in the history of college football, I think a tremendous trip for our fans," Foley said. "We just haven't done much of this, certainly as long as I've been athletic director. I think there are a lot of positives that come out of it."

Each school will receive 25,000 tickets. Florida will be considered the home team, according to a Michigan release, and referees from the Big 12 Conference will be used.