UCF: Is it a rivalry?

Florida State versus Miami.

Southern California versus Notre Dame.

South Florida versus Central Florida?

The War on I-4 doesn’t have the nationally televised impact of the first two games mentioned, but it’s quickly becoming a heated rivalry. Despite meeting for just the second time this Saturday, the players are looking forward to this matchup.

Prior to the season, UCF coach George O’Leary was quoted in a Tampa Tribune story as saying he wants to play USF every season. Coach Jim Leavitt, on the other hand, isn’t worried about beginning a rivalry. His focus is capturing a victory Saturday and moving on.

“I always think about winning a game,” Leavitt said. “I never think about losing any game. Never have, never will.”

USF has much to lose and little to gain in this weekend’s matchup. A victory over UCF – which plays in Conference USA, a non-BCS conference – does little to help the Bulls’ bowl chances.

UCF, however, has everything to gain if the Golden Knights can come away with a victory. But will it really be an upset if UCF comes out victorious in this weekend’s contest?

I don’t think so.

USF has struggled in its first two contests this season and now must go on the road to face a much-improved Golden Knights team. After a turnaround season with an 8-5 record and a bowl appearance, UCF has been picked by ConferenceUSA.com to return to the conference championship game this season.

UCF has 17 returning starters this season and opened the season with a 35-16 victory over Villanova. That gives this rivalry more spice, because a rivalry doesn’t mean much if one team dominates the series.

This game will not only impact the win-loss record of both teams, but it could also swing the decisions of recruits. Plenty of players on both teams, including starting quarterback Matt Grothe, were targeted for recruiting by both universities. Both rosters have players who either played with or against each other in high school.

“This automatically is a rivalry because we are only an hour apart from each other,” junior defensive back Mike Jenkins said.

“A lot of players for both teams are going to get pumped up a little bit more because we faced each other last season and in high school.”

Can this rivalry ever become as big as Miami-Florida State?

“I think that is up to the media coverage and the television,” Leavitt said.

I don’t believe this rivalry will ever live up to that kind of magnitude, but it is surely a way to get more support for the program from the area. USF is starving for more community support, and this is a perfect way to increase it.

This rivalry has two more years to build excitement and become a serious series between the two up-and-coming programs.

The only problem is that USF hasn’t talked about renewing the contract with UCF after it’s expired.

With the addition of N.C. State and Auburn as future opponents for the Bulls, a yearly matchup with UCF is not at the top of the scheduling list. Their dominant 31-14 victory last year began this rivalry, but the Bulls need to stay on their toes to keep this rivalry from becoming interesting.

“I don’t think there is any question that our team is looking forward to playing UCF,” Leavitt said.

Let the rivalry heat up.