Losing the battle, not the ‘War’

USF has never won the all-sport War on I-4 trophy since its inception in 2016-17, nor has it won the football trophy (pictured above) since 2016. ORACLE PHOTO/BRIAN HATTAB

Don’t look at the current War on I-4 standings if you’re faint of heart.

It’s not a pretty sight.

After both USF men’s and women’s basketball lost to the Knights over the weekend, UCF leads the 2019-2020 series 30-6.

Apologies to the faint of heart for making you look at the standings anyway.

But that number, as well as UCF’s three straight wins since the all-sport rivalry officially began in 2016, has Bulls fans riled up and upset on social media.

Rightfully so, especially given last year’s 70-14 blowout — and especially considering none of the proverbial revenue sports (football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball) have defeated the school out east since at least 2016.

However, before we get on the #FireEveryone train — which doesn’t seem to have left the station yet, thankfully — let’s actually break down that 30-6 scoreline.

Volleyball accounts for six of the Knights’ points thanks to 3-1 and 3-0 victories back in the fall. Volleyball has been an easy six points for UCF since the inception of the series for several reasons. UCF has been really good in recent years while USF has been mediocre to awful. The Bulls haven’t even beaten UCF in the entire time they’ve been conference rivals.

But that may change in the near future with the hire of new coach Jolene Shepardson, whose coaching career is highlighted by her ability to turn programs around. Shepardson turned San Jose State from a four-win team into one that won 17 matches three seasons into her tenure. That’s after turning a winless Cal State Bakersfield team into a 21-match winner in her third season.

The Knights gained 12 points in 1-0 victories in men’s and women’s soccer, respectively. The UCF men were ranked in the top 10 at the time, while the UCF women did a good job shutting down Bulls striker Evelyne Viens. (The USF women got the last laugh in the conference tournament, for what it’s worth.)

Another six points were awarded to UCF following its 34-7 victory in football back on Black Friday. The entire coaching staff that let that happen is gone. That’s not to say you should expect a USF win when the Knights come to Raymond James Stadium in November — just that the necessary changes have been made.

The basketball losses count for three points each, and it’s arguable that questionable foul calls late in both games aided UCF’s victories. But even without the fouls, perspective is important.

The men’s team is in the third year, or “Year 0,” as coach Brian Gregory calls it, of a rebuild of what was basically a dormant — actually, check that — a doormat program. Losing isn’t fun, losing to your rival also isn’t fun, and losing to your rival because of a terrible call especially isn’t fun.

But the Bulls were in the game until the bitter — like sucking a lemon with a cut on your lip bitter — end and led for a good portion before falling by only one point. If that doesn’t inspire at least a little bit of hope for the rematch Feb. 1 at the Yuengling Center, there might not be much that will, short of actually beating UCF.

Much like last season, the women’s team is suffering from a short bench. Freshman Maria Alvarez is out for the season after sustaining a knee injury against Cincinnati earlier this month. At the time, she was the Bulls’ second-leading scorer. 

Meanwhile, junior Enna Pehadzic, who was supposed to be USF’s veteran leader, has struggled, averaging just over six points. Pehadzic, who didn’t even see the floor against UCF on Sunday, has played a combined 16 minutes in AAC play prior to Wednesday night’s game at Wichita State.

It’s rare that a Jose Fernandez-led team misses out on a postseason appearance, but this might just be one of those years. There’s still time to turn it around for a WNIT bid, though. Three points against UCF in Orlando on Feb. 19 would certainly help toward that.

Incidentally, the one sport that has earned points for USF in the War on I-4 is the one where a coaching change has already gone into effect: cross-country. Coach Erik Jenkins’ team finished ahead of UCF in the AAC Championship for the first time since the series began.

In addition to the upcoming basketball rematches, softball, baseball, women’s track and field, women’s tennis, men’s tennis, men’s golf and women’s golf all have the opportunity to bring the Bulls back into this year’s series. That’s 48 points still up for the taking.

None of this is excuse making, mind you. The results have to be there eventually, especially against a rival as vocal as UCF. 

But it’s important to critically analyze these scores every now and then.