Rob Bridenstine

USF vs. UCF through the years: A history of "The War on I-4"

Separated by just 100 miles of Florida interstate, USF and UCF have always been a natural rivalry, but this will be the first year that they meet as part of an officially recognized rivalry. With Saturday set to stage the eighth meeting between the two teams, here are some of the biggest moments between them.

USF and UCF met for the first time in 2005 and played yearly until 2008 with the Bulls taking each meeting. They then met again in 2013 after UCF joined the American Athletic Conference and the two teams renewed their rivalry. With the rivalry now official, the “War on I-4” will be played for the series’ brand new trophy. After losing their first four meetings, UCF holds wins in two of the last three games between the teams, but USF won 44-3 last year in Orlando to finish the regular season against a winless UCF football team.

Sept 17, 2005. UCF 14, USF 31.

In the first meeting between the two teams, USF’s record-breaking running back, Andre Hall, led the Bulls to a big halftime lead on the way to an easy win over the Knights. The game was never in question for the Bulls after USF took a 21-0 lead into the locker room for halftime, so it wasn’t until the second half that UCF got to show off some of their NFL-caliber talent.

At the time, UCF rostered current NFL standouts, wide receiver Brandon Marshall and kicker Matt Prater. Down 31-7 with just over two minutes remaining, UCF quarterback Steven Moffett found Marshall in the end zone for a nine yard touchdown pass. It was Marshall’s 11th touchdown of his senior season, and the last regular season touchdown he would catch before being selected in the 4th round of the NFL draft that year. Matt Prater was also playing in his senior season.

Hall was probably the best running back to step on USF’s campus before Marlon Mack found his way to Tampa, and he was, per usual, nothing short of great that day against the Knights. He carried the ball 22 times for 155 yards, finding the end zone once. Backup running back Ricky Ponton and quarterback Pat Julmiste also each added a touchdown of their own on the ground, running for 75 and 73 yards a piece, respectively.

Oct 13, 2007. UCF 12, USF 64.

2007 was a huge year for the Bulls. They matched a program record with nine wins, found victories over 17th ranked Auburn and fifth ranked West Virginia, reached number two in the national rankings and beat UCF by 52; the largest margin of any game between the two teams.

The Bulls won the game on the back of quarterback Matt Grothe. Grothe went completed 15 of his 28 passing attempts for 212 and two touchdowns while adding 100 yards on the ground and another two touchdowns in the run game. With just over 17 minutes of possession in the game, the Bulls went on to tally 543 total yards of offense. They wouldn’t need all of that firepower though, as their defense allowed the Knights just a measly 145 total yards and forced three turnovers, one of which coming off of an interception by USF defensive back Mike Jenkins. Following the ’08 season, Jenkins would be drafted 25th overall by the Dallas Cowboys, and currently plays for the Arizona Cardinals.

Nov 29, 2013. USF 20, UCF 23.

Entering the game with possibly the most talented team this rivalry has seen in its short history, the UCF Knights came into the weekend ranked 17th in the nation with a 9-1 record. Behind future NFL players, Storm Johnson, Breshad Perriman and Blake Bortles, UCF was looking for more than just a rivalry win that day. A win would be the Knights’ 10th win of the season and another major argument toward their spot in a major bowl game.

The game wasn’t nearly what most expected however, with neither team topping 300 yards of total offense. The major difference in the game was actually turnovers. While USF forced Bortles and the Knights to turn the ball over three times, the Bulls offensive woes were exploited, handing the ball back over to UCF on five different occasions.

To many it didn’t look like the two-win Bulls would pose much of a challenge coming into the game, but with time running out, UCF was trailing 20-16 and in desperate need of a big play.

USF fans had become accustomed to disappointment in 2013, but perhaps no moment brought more disappointment than when that big play finally came for the Knights. With just under five minutes left, Bortles launched the ball deep down the left side of the field and found Perriman for a 52-yard score, giving UCF a three point lead that they would eventually hold on to for the victory.

Following the win over USF, UCF would finish their season with a win over SMU and go on to play a sixth ranked Baylor team in the Fiesta Bowl. Despite Baylor being heavily favored in the game, UCF upset the Bears by a score of 52-42. Following the season, Bortles went on to be drafted with the third overall pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Nov 26, 2016. TBD.

Not only is this weekend the first time that USF and UCF will both be bowl eligible prior to their matchup together, but Willie Taggart also takes the Bulls into rivalry weekend with a chance at securing that elusive 10th win, a number that USF has never reached in a single season. With nationally recognized talent like quarterback Quinton Flowers and running back Marlon Mack, a win could solidify the Bulls’ spot in the AAC championship game, along with making one final argument for USF landing a spot in the top-25 to finish off the regular season.

The six-win Knights won’t roll over that easy, though, as they enter the game ranked eighth in the nation in red zone defense and 18th in scoring defense. USF on the other hand, has been running the ball as well as anyone in the nation this season, ranking sixth in rushing offense and seventh in both scoring and total offense. USF will need to get it going early this weekend though, as they’ll be lining up across from UCF’s standout linebacker, Shaquem Griffin. Griffin ranks fifth in the nation with 11 sacks, and eight in the nation with 17 tackles-for-loss.

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