Ray Jay Stadium can only be ‘Oz' for one I-4 team

USFnation.com brings you a commentary on this weeks battle between potential in-state rivals, USF and UCF.

Somewhere over the rainbow, across a 98-mile stretch from Tampa, is a sleeping football program in need of revival. Storm after storm, this team has weathered its share of losses- 16 out of 16, the nation's longest losing streak.

Things are much sunnier over in Bulls' Country, where a suit-clad Leavitt and company get to hold press conferences in a plush new Big East room. For the South Florida Bulls, a new conference, a hip logo, and all the right marketing strategies make the future appear bright. For UCF, the only thing bright appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel.

Things can change quickly, however. Ask USF. In just nine short years, the school has gone from playing I-AA, to defeating teams such as Pittsburgh (2001) and Louisville (2003), and a scheduled match-up with Miami in two weeks. For UCF, it has meant watching a program 18 years younger catapult itself ahead almost overnight. With Daunte Culpepper, the Knights went 9-2 in 1998. Since then, the program has been desperately trying to climb out of the trenches.

You could call I-4 a yellow-brick road of sorts, which would make Raymond James Stadium ‘Oz.' Two football programs in search of national prestige, having long lingered in the shadows of Florida, Florida State, and Miami, get to have a rivalry of their own. The teams come together to play for the first time this Saturday, where all will be laid out on the "not-so-quite emerald-green" field.

USF, no question, holds the ruby-red slippers in running back Andre Hall. The guy is a tornado, a freight train, flattening anyone and anything that gets in his way. His performances in the past two games have propelled USF to a 13th ranking in rushing offense, but they'll need more. UCF rushing defense is ranked 5th after allowing South Carolina just 32 yards in week one. The Bulls will have to rely on Pat Julmiste's passing game more than ever. In the past he's struggled with consistency, but appears to have matured as a team leader and playmaker. His receivers gained some much-needed confidence last weekend– hopefully the "butter fingers" are gone.

Despite lengthy ball possession against FAMU last week, the offensive line was again solid in protection. They must maintain their stability– UCF defensive ends Paul Carrington and Chris Welsh will be knocking at the door, having both recorded sacks in South Carolina.

Defensively, USF is hurt by the loss of yet another key player– A.J. Brant suffered a torn ACL against FAMU last weekend and is out for the season. Currently ranked 8th in total defense and 1st in passing defense, the Bulls should still be okay. UCF has a good quarterback in Steven Moffett. Despite 6 sacks in South Carolina, he managed to get the ball into the hands of Brandon Marshall (10 receptions for 102 yards) and Mike Walker (9 receptions for 105 yards). If the USF defense can stuff UCF, the Knight's offense won't have much else to work with.

Jim Leavitt's Bulls are 36-8 at home and favored to win by 9.5 points over George O'Leary's Golden Knights. And while the prize won't be a ticket back to Kansas (for Leavitt, it's a "been there, done that" deal), pride is on the line for both schools.

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