TAMPA – It’s a short Thanksgiving week, Friday will be senior day and there are sure to be plenty of emotions when USF hosts UCF in the 10th meeting between the schools in this “War on I-4.”
Four is also the Bulls’ losing streak, which is in stark contrast the 23-game win streak the Knights will bring to Raymond James Stadium (4:15 ESPN/820 AM WWBA) on Friday afternoon.
It will be an emotional day for the seniors, who, barring a Gasparilla Bowl appearance, will run out of the tunnel and onto their home turf for the last time.
“It is going to be a very emotional night for me,” said end Josh Black, who leads the Bulls with 10 tackles for loss and five sacks. “Even though it’s going to be emotional, I still have to have passion and pride because there’s a team out east that I have to get hyped for and get ready to play. So, it’s going to be a very fun night, interesting night.”
Sure, it would have been nice to build on a 7-0 start instead of sinking to fourth place in the AAC. At least for three-plus hours on Friday, however, the focus will be on one game, one opponent, a matchup in which so many players know one another.
“You don’t have to say much during the week,” said coach Charlie Strong, when asked about rivalry games. “These guys all know one another. We recruited some of their players and they recruited some of our players. They had a chance to grow up together and played in the same high school programs.”
Because of the familiarity and proximity — the USF and UCF campuses are about 95 miles apart — little needs to be said.
“You don’t have to have a speech for this game,” said senior nickelback Ronnie Hoggins. “It’s the team out east that we are playing.”
Indeed, the opponent needs no introduction.
“This game means everything,” said senior corner Mazzi Wilkins. “The whole team, the seniors, we want to go out with a bang and leave a legacy behind. Even though we couldn’t achieve some of the goals that we wanted, (beating UCF) is one of the goals that we have written down and can still go out and achieve.”
Nobody needs to be reminded about last year’s thrill-a-minute 49-42 loss in Orlando, a defeat the sent the Knights, and not the Bulls, to the conference championship.
For the younger guys who were not around for that game, which arguably was the most exciting of the entire college football season, Hoggins has been reminding them that emotions need to be checked at the door.
“What I tell them is just, ‘Stay the course,’” he said. “It’s going to be rowdy and it’s going to be loud. There’s going to be lots of ups and downs in the game, but you have to stay the course and stay focused on the task at hand and good things will happen.”
Nothing will be better for this group of Bulls, this group of seniors, than to beat their chief rival, which is coming off a rousing weekend that started with ESPN Game Day coming to town and ended with the Knights being ranked No. 8 in the AP and No. 9 in the coaches poll.
“It would mean a lot especially for this program just to mess up their season, and for us to finish off pretty strong,” said Black. “This is our next game up and we are going to take it full steam ahead. We have enough (in the tank) to go out there and beat them boys up east.”