UCF - South Florida: Five Things to Watch

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As rivalries go, this is about as good as it gets in the American Athletic Conference.
In a league that is almost seven full football seasons old now, it hasn't been all that simple to formulate rivalries with conference members spread widely from Connecticut to Florida to Texas and Oklahoma.
So it's no particular surprise that the UCF-USF contest has become a regular television event on the day after Thanksgiving.
Even though these two programs never faced each other until 2005 and have met only 10 previous times overall, this has become everything a rivalry is supposed to be—in this case a battle in the middle of Florida for yearly geographic supremacy.
And it's fair to say both programs have seen their share of ups and downs, even in the limited window of matchups between the Knights and Bulls.
So, here are some areas to watch when UCF (8-3 overall, 5-2 AAC) plays host to South Florida  (4-7 overall, 2-5 AAC) Friday night (8 p.m. ET on ESPN):

  1. The Knights know the equation. Turnovers. Penalties. Fast starts. Protecting the football.  When the Knights have struggled in those areas, life has been more difficult in 2019. But, after 11 games, the UCF players and coaches understand all that. That gives everyone wearing black and gold a good sense of what it will take to win Friday night.
  2. The whole football world will be watching. Even though the entire Thanksgiving weekend is loaded with a glut of football games, this one stands by itself in terms of the time slot. It's the only college game in prime time Friday on any network. That means there's likely to be plenty of people watching what happens at Spectrum Stadium. 
  3. Protecting the home field. Let's face it, no team builds a 20-game home stadium winning streak by accident. As good as UCF has been overall the last three seasons, the Knights have been especially good at home in building that current streak. If UCF defeats South Florida, that number moves to 21 and ties Clemson for the longest in the country. All that is not lost on anyone connected with UCF. As glossy as the Knights' numbers have been in 2019, it's worth noting that in its five home games this fall, UCF has averaged 49.6 points and 585 total yards per game. Those figures are not likely lost on anyone connected with South Florida.
  4. This is about bragging rights. The current UCF roster lists 79 players, including 15 projected starters (seven offense, eight defense), from Florida. The South Florida roster includes 91 Floridians. Of those listed as Bulls starters, all 11 on offense and all but two on defense come from the Sunshine State—and nine of them come from the general Tampa Bay area. So these rosters know each other well. They call it the War on I4—and that's no exaggeration. 
  5. It's the last time. Even though it's been a short week of preparation, the UCF seniors making their final appearance at Spectrum Stadium have had plenty to think about in recent days. Twenty of them will be introduced before kickoff Friday night and what  amazing journeys they've had. The fourth-year seniors came to Orlando on the heels of an 0-12 season and flipped that around with a 28-game regular-season victory streak to win 39 games (so far) over their careers. Throw in a perfect 13-0 campaign in 2017, a couple of AAC titles and lots more and it's likely already way more than any of them might have been able to project when they enrolled back in 2016. That's why Jordan Johnson, Adrian Killins, Nate Evans and the rest want to make this last one at home count.