A Sunshine State Rivalry Week College Football Preview

2019 Sunshine State coaches Josh Heupel, Willie Taggart, Dan Mullen and Charlie Strong

For sports fans in the Sunshine State, Thanksgiving Day serves as 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 aren’t up. For many, the outcomes of these games linger long after this weekend. Some even have an effect on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day plans.

That is certainly the case for two key Sunshine State rivalry games on the college gridiron. Both will play their traditional match-ups 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) look to turn Black Friday into Black & Gold Friday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa as they take on their arch-rival, 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 Bulls. Unfortunately for USF, they enter Friday’s contest on a four-game losing streak after rattling off 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 STATE 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 enter Saturday’s showdown already eliminated from conference championship contention. 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. The continued development of quarterback Felipe Franks might be a bigger work in progress than the I-4 Ultimate project. Now 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 arch-rival.”

A win would give the Seminoles that required sixth victory to become bowl eligible. The Seminoles would also 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 head-to-head history of this rivalry still belongs to Florida by a count of 34-26-2.

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Written by Nick Moore

Nick Moore is a sports contributor at Central Florida Lifestyle. He is an alumni of the University of Florida, where he graduated with honors from the School of Health and Human Performance - Sports Management.
Nick has been in the media industry for 13 years, serving a variety of roles in both the business and production aspects. His well-rounded work history is a testament to his belief that you can never learn too much, and the best learning comes through doing.

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