ORLANDO, Fla. – Central Florida won’t finish with a third straight undefeated regular season, but the Knights can stay on track for another campaign that features double-digit wins Friday night when they host American Athletic Conference-rival South Florida in the War on I-4. UCF has lost three games by a total of seven points this season - all on the road - but held off a late rally at Tulane last week for a 34-31 victory.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: UCF -24
“It matters to them,” Knights coach Josh Heupel told reporters of the rivalry as his team tries to extend its home winning streak to 21. “The history of the game, and a lot of the kids are from here inside the state. … It’s important to (the fans) like it is to our players. It’s bragging rights for an entire year in the state.” UCF’s freshman quarterback Dillon Gabriel has thrown for 3,123 yards and 25 touchdowns with seven interceptions while junior receiver Gabriel Davis is putting together another impressive season with 1,135 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns - tied for 15th in the nation. Heupel said he expects a challenge from an improving USF team, which nearly knocked off 17th-ranked Cincinnati two weeks ago but fell apart after taking an early lead last Saturday in a 49-10 setback against No. 18 Memphis. “We just could never get any rhythm at all going on offense,” Bulls coach Charlie Strong told reporters after his team’s third straight loss. “Then, it just beats down your defense.”
ABOUT SOUTH FLORIDA (4-7, 2-5 AAC)
The Bulls finished with just 44 yards passing last week, but may have found a future star as freshman Kelley Joiner Jr. rushed for 115 yards on 13 carries as injuries gave him the opportunity. Senior backs Jordan Cronkrite (team-best 686 yards) along with Trevon Sands are not expected to play, giving Joiner another chance, and Strong told reporters: “The thing about (Joiner), he’s so small and quick, but he’s fast enough where he can run away from people.” Freshman quarterback Jordan McCloud has thrown for 12 touchdowns and six interceptions while senior tight end Mitchell Wilcox (26 catches, 334 yards, five TDs) is his top target.
ABOUT CENTRAL FLORIDA (8-3, 5-2)
Gabriel has completed 59.4 percent of his passes while Tre Nixon supports Davis well with 44 receptions for 722 yards to go along with seven scores and fellow junior Marlon Williams (39, 549, five) had nine catches for 119 yards last week. The Knights boast four backs with at least 400 yards rushing, led by junior Otis Anderson (658, five TDs), with sophomore Bentavious Thompson (524, eight), senior Adrian Killins Jr. (514, six) and Greg McCrae (419, six) also contributing. Senior linebacker Nate Evans, who leads the team with 92 tackles, plays his final home game along with senior defensive lineman Brendon Hayes (6.5 sacks).
1. Killins needs 37 all-purpose yards to move past Mark Whittemore (4,282) for fourth on the school’s all-time list.
2. South Florida sophomore LB Dwayne Boyles is tied for the team lead with 67 tackles and had a season-high 10 against Memphis.
3. The Bulls leads the all-time series 6-4, but the Knights have won the past two meetings - 38-10 in Tampa last season.
PREDICTION: Central Florida 45, South Florida 21