After 13 straight games, the War on I-4 will come to a close for the foreseeable future on Saturday at Raymond James.
USF (1-10, 0-7 AAC) is not only hungry to take the trophy back, but to keep No. 25 UCF (8-3, 5-2 AAC) from advancing in conference play and bowl eligibility.
Bragging rights is an accessory to the War on I-4 trophy that is presented to the winning team. It is styled after the interstate sign and decorated with both schools’ logos. USF has not seen the award since it was first awarded in 2016.
Many of the players on both teams are from Florida which makes the competition more exciting, according to interim coach Daniel Da Prato. Since many grew up playing the game together, the matchup has allowed many of them to see familiar faces from childhood and high school teams.
Saturday’s game will also mark the end of college football for 17 seniors who will be honored at the game, none of which have ever won a War on I-4 game. Twelve of the players are super seniors who received an extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19.
Senior linebacker Dwayne Boyles is one of the players graduating. He said it is disappointing that the rising players will not have the same opportunities to make memories playing the Knights.
“It’s a unique rivalry,” Boyles said. “We don’t have another team like UCF who we can battle along with each other … I feel for those guys because … it’s been great for the past few years. I’ve been here even though we haven’t gotten the outcome that we wanted. Every time I went out there and played at their field or played on ours … that was a lot of fun.”
While the hunger to win is there, it will not be easy. The Knights are currently ranked No. 25 and are third in the AAC.
Da Prato said USF’s focus needs to be on its own performance to be good enough to go against UCF.
“They’re a good ballclub,” Da Prato said. “There’s a reason they’re ranked in the top 25 for multiple weeks. They’re athletic. They’ve done a lot of different things on offense and they play with great tempo. They keep working to try and find what they do well and then keep doing it. Defensively they’re physical, they’re aggressive.”
UCF senior quarterback John Rhys Plumlee exited last week’s game against Navy early due to a shoulder injury, allowing freshman Mikey Keene to step up. In a Monday press conference, UCF coach Gus Malzahn said Plumlee will start if he is well enough, but Keene will be ready as well.
Plumlee has thrown for 2,122 passing yards so far this season and ran for 715. Keene passed 518 yards with a 70.3% completion rate.
Da Prato said it is out of their control as to who starts, but they will be ready to adjust if need be.
“You need to be ready for both of them to be in the game and have a plan for both of them,” Da Prato said. “And whichever one trots out there to start, we’ll be ready for him.”
Freshman quarterback Byrum Brown is going to take the field for his second career start at USF after breaking records on Friday against Tulsa.
Brown said the locker room is eager to see a win and has been seeking advice from both quarterbacks junior Gerry Bohanon and sophomore Katravis Marsh to help make that possible.
“[Gerry] and [Katravis] have been tremendous,” Brown said. “They watch extra film with me. Even in practice, they would say, ‘Why do you go there?’ So even though they’re not able to play, they’re coaching me up and getting me prepared for what I might see.”
While the War on I-4 brings a healthy competition for both teams, Da Prato said that records aside, he wants the team to have fun.
“For the young kids on the roster, this will be their one shot,” Da Prato said. “Unless something changes dramatically, I don’t think they will have another opportunity to play against these guys and that’s for both teams … that’s the fun leading up to the game.”
USF will host the War on I-4 at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday at 7 p.m. The game will be streamed on ESPN and broadcast on BullsUnlimited.