TAMPA, Fla. – Ninth-ranked Central Florida passed one big test last weekend and has another tough hurdle ahead in order to complete a second straight perfect regular season as it visits rival South Florida on Friday for the 10th edition of the War on I-4. UCF clinched its spot in the American Athletic Conference championship game with a 38-13 victory over Cincinnati on Saturday, extending its nation-best winning streak to 23, and hopes to hand the Bulls their fifth straight loss.
TV: 4:15 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: UCF -14
“USF always plays tough,” Knights linebacker Pat Jasinski told the Orlando Sentinel as his team moved to ninth in the College Football Playoff rankings. “Their guys want to knock our heads off. We want to knock theirs off. It’s just what it is. You know you’re going to get a hard-fought game and, as a player, that’s everything you kind of want.” Junior quarterback McKenzie Milton threw for 373 yards and four scores in the 49-42 win over USF last year and has been responsible for 33 touchdowns this season, but the defense must step up for a second straight week against a dangerous Bulls offense. South Florida raced to a 7-0 start, then gave up 133 points in the next three games before coughing up a 17-point halftime lead in a 27-17 setback at Temple on Saturday, but a win over UCF would soothe the pain. “This game means everything,” USF cornerback Mazzi Wilkins told the Tampa Bay Times. “We have very high expectations for ourselves, so I don’t know if it can completely (save the year), but it would definitely heal a lot of wounds that happened.”
ABOUT CENTRAL FLORIDA (10-0, 7-0 American)
The Knights produced one of their best defensive efforts last week, allowing one offensive touchdown, and coach Josh Heupel told reporters: “A dominating performance. They kept us in the ball game early while offensively, we got our footing.” Senior lineman Titus Davis recorded three of his six sacks on the season against Cincinnati and sophomore defensive back Richie Grant registered 12 of his team-high 93 tackles last week. Milton boasts 24 touchdown passes and has spread the ball around well as sophomores Gabriel Davis (39 catches, five touchdowns) and Tre Nixon (37, four), along with junior Dredrick Snelson (35, five), get the most work.
ABOUT SOUTH FLORIDA (7-4, 3-4)
Coach Charlie Strong lamented the third quarter, when the Bulls had the ball on Temple’s side of the field three times before turning it over twice and failing on a 4th-and-1. USF finished with a season-low 266 yards of offense last week and junior quarterback Blake Barnett had just 82 of those with two interceptions, but the Owls were limited to 76 yards on the ground - the Bulls’ best effort in that category this year. A big performance will be needed from junior running back Jordan Cronkrite, who became the fifth USF player to rush for 1,000 yards in a season (1,065) last week, and senior Tyre McCants leads the receiving corps with 56 catches for 604 yards.
1. USF junior TE Mitchell Wilcox, who has made 35 catches for 465 yards, re-injured his ankle last week but is expected to try to play.
2. Central Florida K Matthew Wright had 53 career field goals and needs one to pass for Shawn Moffitt for the school record.
3. The Knights are ninth in the nation in rushing yards per game (257.7) and the Bulls have allowed 231.5 - 119th in the country.
PREDICTION: Central Florida 45, South Florida 24