USF is wary of winless UCF ahead of rivalry game

USF coach Willie Taggart said despite UCF’s winless record through 11 games, he expects the Knights to give their best effort of the season Thursday night. ORACLE PHOTO/ADAM MATHIEU

While it might be easy to overlook a team like winless Central Florida, USF coach Willie Taggart knows his team can’t afford to.

“We know they’re struggling,” Taggart said during Monday’s AAC coaches teleconference. “We just have to continue to keep our focus on USF and getting USF better. I’m sure our guys will be highly motivated.”

The Knights (0-11) are far removed from their BCS glory days when they dropped 52 points on Baylor in a Fiesta Bowl win in January 2014. Since that night in Arizona, UCF has accumulated an overall record 9-15 and 0-11 this year.

Even with UCF’s ineptitude this season, Taggart expects his team’s best effort Thursday night when the Bulls take the rivalry across I-4 to Orlando.

“I don’t think it took away from the last two years when we were on the other side of it,” Taggart said. “I think (the rivalry) will still be there no matter what.”

USF, on the other hand, has bounced back from a lackluster start to the season and has a ton of momentum heading into Thursday.

Following a 1-3 start, the Bulls have rattled off six wins in their last seven games, including a 65-27 romp of preseason East division favorite Cincinnati on Friday.

Taggart said he’s proud of his team’s resiliency.

“The way we started off and being able to overcome adversity is something we haven’t be able to do the first two years,” Taggart said.

UCF interim coach Danny Barrett, who took over earlier this season following George O’Leary’s resignation after nearly 11 years at the helm, also knows it will take everything his team has to slow down the Bulls’ potent offense.

“They’re probably the hottest team in the conference right now,” Barrett said. “Because of the proximity of the schools and because of the last couple of years and the type of games that we’ve played in, knowing the intensity of the football game … our guys are going to go out and play hard for sure.”

If USF beats the Knights, it needs No. 25 Temple to lose to Connecticut for berth in the inaugural AAC championship game on Dec. 12. 

USF holds the tiebreaker against the Owls after a 44-23 victory Nov. 16.

“We’ll have plenty of interest in it,” Taggart said. “I’m sure a lot of our guys will be watching that game and it would mean a lot, but only if we take care of our business on Thursday night.”