Either Florida International University or Central Florida will come out a winner Saturday when they meet in Orlando. For one of them, it will be a double win.
In-state games aren’t just limited to the football field. Those games have a strong impact when coaches go visit Mom and Dad over coffee and cookies in the living room and attempt to recruit their high school superstar son.
In Florida, win a football game — particularly against an in-state opponent — and you are rounding the curve on the inside track in the recruiting race.
That will be the added bonus for whichever team wins Saturday’s 4 p.m. game between FIU and Central Florida.
FIU coach Mario Cristobal knows victories lure talent. Going to bowl games — FIU has been to bowls the past two years — lures talent. And beating an in-state rival lures talent.
“It’s always a recruiting battle down here,” Cristobal said of the talent-laden South Florida area.
Then he added, “If recruiting is not hard, then you’re probably not recruiting the right guys. It’s a great challenge and also an opportunity at the same time. We’re aggressive in the way we approach football, and we’re aggressive in the way we approach recruiting.’’
But, according to Cristobal, playing — and winning — against an in-state school goes well beyond the recruiting battle.
“Anytime in-state schools can play each other, it’s great for everybody,” Cristobal said. “It’s great for the fan bases, it’s great for the universities, it’s great for the game-day atmosphere and everything else. It makes for great Saturdays. It’s also the start of rivalries.
“This week, we have a good chunk of fans traveling up there,” Cristobal said of the game against UCF that matches two teams that are 1-1.
In addition, he said, the players — some of whom have been recruited by each school — get extra pleasure and show extra determination when they play against a former teammate or former opponent from their high school days.
FIU’s fledgling football path is somewhat similar to the road both Central Florida and the University of South Florida have taken, and Cristobal has taken note of the success those two schools have had.
“They’ve done a great job of building programs,” he said.
Central Florida and South Florida have 30-plus years of football under their belts. FIU has barely crawled past the 10-year mark.
“I think, obviously, they have a head start in terms of timeline,” Cristobal said. “They [UCF and USF] offer great blueprints, and anyone building a program can learn a lot from that.”
Has Cristobal examined his upstate brethren in terms of building his program?
“Yes,” he said simply.
Don’t take that the wrong way. That doesn’t mean he or his team is in awe.
“Now is the time for us to get on the bus and go play football,” he said of Saturday’s game. “This is a tremendous opportunity for us.”