The gluttony of Thanksgiving Day always provides a perfect blend of family, friends and calories. Its purpose is to serve as an opportunity to give the proper amount of appreciation to all of that and more. For most, the festivities (and the leftovers) last well into the always wonderfully timed long weekend.
For sports fans, Thanksgiving Day serves as merely an appetizer for a gluttonous weekend of wall-to-wall football. Its purpose is to provide your significant other an excuse as to why Christmas preparation has not yet gotten under way. For many, the outcomes of these games can linger long after this weekend and may have an effect on various plans, including New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day and beyond.
That is certainly the case for two key in-state rivalry games on the college gridiron – both will play their traditional matchups with a whole lot on the line over the next two days.
THE WAR ON I-4 (Friday, 4:15P ET, ESPN)
The #9 UCF Knights (10-0) will look to turn Black Friday into Black & Gold Friday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa as they prepare to take on their archrival, the South Florida Bulls (7-4). Laying the nation’s longest active winning streak (23 games) on the line for the second time in six days, the Knights enter Friday’s contest a two touchdown favorite (-14 / 69.5).
A win would secure the Knights second consecutive undefeated regular season and virtually assure them at least another appearance in a New Year’s Six bowl game. Of course, Knight Nation continues to hold out hope that their resume could be enough for consideration into the College Football Playoff. On Tuesday, the Knights were given the highest ranking ever achieved by a non-power five school in the Playoff era (#9).
While the rest of the nation remains on standby to tell the Knights they told them so, no one relishes the opportunity to spoil their season more than the South Florida Bulls. Unfortunately for USF, they enter Friday’s contest on a four-game losing streak, after opening the season with seven consecutive wins.
“I just don’t want them (Knights fans) to come in and take over our stadium,” USF head coach Charlie Strong told the Tampa Bay Times earlier this week.
Sorry, Charlie. Challenge accepted.
Although the two teams are currently headed in opposite directions, the Bulls have proven to be a worthy opponent for the Knights throughout this rivalry. In the nine games between the two schools, South Florida leads the all-time series 6-3.
THE SUNSHINE SHOWDOWN (Saturday, 12P ET, ABC)
Anyone associated with both the #13 Florida Gators (8-3) and unranked Florida State Seminoles (5-6) have had plentiful helpings of humble pie this season. With both programs under the direction of first-year head coaches, the bumps and bruises throughout the first 12 weeks of the season have been apparent. Both teams enter Saturday’s showdown already eliminated from conference championship contention; and in the Seminoles case, bowl eligibility altogether.
2018 has actually been an improvement for Florida. The Gators enter the game ranked 55th in Total Offense, nearly cutting in half where they ranked a year ago at this time. The continued development of quarterback Felipe Franks might be a bigger work in progress than the I-4 Ultimate project, but with a solid foundation in the backfield, look for Florida to use a power run game to control the outcome.
A win could vault the Gators into an appearance at a New Year’s Six bowl game. It would be their first such appearance in five years and also present a real chance of facing another in-state opponent once there: the UCF Knights.
Willie Taggart and the Seminoles enter Saturday’s game with both momentum and a lot to play for. Last week’s fourth quarter comeback over Boston College set up a potential bowl-clinching scenario with a win over the Gators.
“Hopefully it’s the defining moment we all knew could happen,” Taggert said earlier this week. “It’s good that our guys kept believing and found a way. We needed it in the worst way and we’ve got one more against our archrival.”
A win would give the Seminoles that required sixth victory to become bowl eligible and extend the nation’s longest active bowl appearance streak to 37 years.
The Gators will take the field in Tallahassee as one touchdown favorites (-7 / 52), but are just 1-4 against the number at Doak Campbell Stadium in their last five appearances. The Seminoles have won five consecutive games in the series. The storied head-to-head history of this rivalry still belongs to Florida by a count of 34-26-2.