On Friday afternoon, as the nation fixes their first leftover turkey sandwiches and settles down for some afternoon football, a rivalry will be born.
For years, the administrations of both the Universities of Central Florida and South Florida have been trying to artificially build a rivalry. While there have been moments of anger and a mild dislike for one another, the two schools have yet to play a meaningful game in the two major sports that drive rivalries. The War on I4 for is a trophy for a rivalry that has yet to happen. Until now.
Both programs have their share of big wins over ranked opponents and programs with storied histories. Some of those were against Hall of Fame coaches and many were against players who later played in the NFL. However, this post-turkey day matchup is very likely to be the most important game in either programs’ history.
This is the first time in the history of the two programs that they will meet as ranked teams. UCF will enter the game ranked 13th in the AP Poll and 12th in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll. They’re also ranked 15th in the College Football Playoff committee poll. USF, who have been ranked every week but one for the past year, are currently listed at 22nd by the AP Poll and 19th by the USA Today Coaches’ Poll. For the four weeks that the poll has been released, the College Football Playoff has excluded the Bulls, who have never been ranked in that poll, since inception.
This is the first time in the history of the series that the game should be competitive. USF dominates the overall record 5-2, but most of those five wins came at a time when the Bulls had a much better team. And, the two wins by UCF came during the worst two of the three worst seasons of USF football, when they had two and four wins. In the two years the Knights were victorious, they posted nine and 12-win seasons. This year, both teams are good, regardless of rankings. Both have high powered offenses, with UCF boasting the #1 scoring offense in the nation, and the Bulls at #16. And, both teams have top 25 defenses. For the first time, neither team has a decided advantage for a lopsided victory. A win will be earned.
This is the first time this game will really matter. Some will suffer an emotional response at the suggestion that other games may not have been important. And, they will argue correctly, that all games matter. However, no game played between these two teams has had the potential of series consequences. Since they are now in the same division of the same conference, all future matchups will have greater significance than all of their previous meetings. This particular game will determine who plays for the conference championship. And, provided the winner beats Memphis, a trip to the Peach Bowl. The loser? The loser gets to go to Boca Raton or some also-ran bowl game with an opponent from a far superior league. Win and you have a shot of national glory and a top five ranking. Lose, and your nine or ten wins is completely irrelevant in the big boy world of college football.
Spectrum Networks Stadium will be sold out on Friday afternoon, and a national audience on ABC, perhaps the largest audience ever to watch these teams play, will be tuning in. And, finally, a battle will be fought and two very good football teams will determine who shall win the day, the trophy, and the respect of a respectable foe. On Friday, a rivalry will be born.