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Bulls ready for UCF rivals

Nate Godwin caught his first interception as a Bull last season against UCF. ORACLE FILE PHOTO/ADAM MATHIEU

Throughout the week leading up to Friday’s game against UCF, the televisions in the USF locker room have been flickering continuously with images of past games the Bulls have played against the Knights. 

Because the two teams began to play each other again just last year after taking a five-year break, many players don’t have much experience with the rivalry. Coach Willie Taggart said he decided to show the players these games to help them realize the magnitude of this week’s game.

“We have a lot of young guys here who don’t understand the rivalry and the young tradition that we have here and we think it is important for learning about the history and tradition at USF,” Taggart said.

With a loss to Memphis on Saturday, USF (4-7, 2-5) is no longer bowl eligible, but still has an important game remaining on the schedule. 

This week marks only the second conference matchup between USF and UCF in what has been nicknamed the “war on I-4.”

Before the tough loss against now-NFL quarterback Blake Bortles and the Knights in 2013, the Bulls owned the all-time series against UCF, 4-0, including a 64-12 beatdown in 2007 when the Bulls were ranked fifth in the nation.

The Bulls hope to salvage their season and earn their victory against a team with a winning record. 

Although the Bulls lead the all-time series, UCF won in their first conference matchup last year, 23-20. The two-win Bulls almost upset No. 19 UCF and forced three turnovers from Bortles. 

The Bulls who played in last year’s game against UCF, such as sophomore safety Nate Godwin, remember the pain of losing.

“I was upset – everybody was upset – people were crying and it was a hard loss to take,” Godwin said. 

The players haven’t been shy about expressing their feelings toward UCF, and seniors such as Todd Chandler are trying to make it clear to the younger players in the clubhouse. 

“You inherit that hate when you sign that letter at South Florida and coach Taggart has been playing the old-school games against UCF to let the younger guys know what we are fighting for,” Chandler said. “It’ll be nothing better to leave as a senior to know that my last chance in playing (UCF) was a loss for them.”

UCF hasn’t been as successful as they were last year, but the Knights are having another winning season. Quarterback Justin Holman has thrown for over 2,000 yards and 18 touchdowns while runningback William Stanback has rushed for eight touchdowns. The Knights also rank 12th in the FBS in points allowed per game, with 18.5. 

Despite his success, Holman is prone to turnovers, with 12 interceptions this season, including four in a loss to Connecticut. Coincidentally, the Bulls forced five turnovers against the Knights in last season’s game and nearly won.  

“They’re a veteran football team and a senior-dominant football team that knows how to win,” Taggart said. “We don’t have the luxury of experience with our team right now, but we played this year together so we are prepared for a good and sound game.” 

USF will play UCF (7-3, 5-1) at Raymond James Stadium at noon Friday. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.