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OPINION: The importance of the War on I-4

USF returns to Raymond James Stadium on Black Friday to take on in-state rival UCF. Last year's game was competitive with a shot at the conference championship on the line, but that isn't the case this year. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/GOUSFBULLS

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

This was supposed to be the game of the year — a rematch for the ages. A game that was going to put the AAC back at the forefront of college football.

Instead, USF is reeling heading into its War on I-4 matchup with No. 11 UCF, while the Knights are exactly what everyone expected they’d be heading into their game in Tampa.

It’s hard not feeling let down by what this game has turned into — a game for pride rather than prize.

The Bulls were eliminated from AAC East championship contention after their loss at Cincinnati on Nov. 10, while UCF won the division on Saturday after defeating the same Bearcats team.

So, other than the aforementioned pride — which does come with a trophy, at least — what else is left at stake in Friday’s game?

A chance for UCF to complete another undefeated season, which may or may not end with another claimed national championship.

For USF — well, at least the trophy would be a nice thing to display.

Neither are exactly compelling reasons for people to tune into ESPN at 4:15 p.m.

Before anyone thinks this is another negative piece about a disappointing football season — it’s not.

It’s not totally the fault of USF players and coaching staff — yes, you read that right, there’s only so much the coaching staff can do with the number of injuries it has had to account for. The Bulls have had to play a high number of freshman this season — at last count by The Oracle, that number was more than 30.

Likewise, when you’re an underclassman and facing the likes of Houston, Cincinnati, Temple and now UCF, there’s only so much you should be expected to be capable of. The growing pains that were evident during the early season games against Illinois and ECU were not able to be covered up with last second victories in recent weeks against better competition.

But, at the end of the day, this game was supposed to mean something greater than just a natural rivalry. This was supposed to be a matchup between two AAC schools on the rise, with something to prove.

Yet, here we are with a USF team that has lost four straight games with a massive storm heading right toward the Bulls and Raymond James Stadium this week.

Hopefully the pride of playing an in-state rival that has made a lot of noise in the college football world the past two seasons is enough to motivate the Bulls. Perhaps the idea of snapping the longest winning streak in FBS is enough for USF to play football like it's never played before.

But it’s a shame it’s come to this.

This game was supposed to mean so much more.