On Friday afternoon, South Florida will make its final scheduled trip to UCF. The Bulls will take the field in the Bounce House, the Knights’ on-campus stadium situated next to their indoor practice facility and new athletics building, with conference championship and New Year’s Six signage shining down from the tower.
USF will get one last glimpse at what it could have been.
As UCF prepares to make its long-awaited move into the Power Five, effectively ending the War on I4, it’s frankly fascinating to look back on how badly South Florida has handled its program. The teams could have been making this move together. 2017 showed the awesome potential of a fully competitive War on I4, with more than four million people tuning in to watch two teams battle that looked to be on the cusp of becoming one of the must-see rivalries of college football.
Hell, UCF and USF could have been doing this together in a power conference for years already, if the Bulls hadn’t blocked the Knights from entering the Big East.
Instead, the Knights are ascending as the Bulls are stagnating. USF is 15-31 since that classic 2017 game, still has the bare minimum for facilities, still has no on-campus stadium or plans for one and still has virtually no local fan support.
UCF, meanwhile, has won two conference championships, played in two New Year’s Six Bowls and finished ranked three times since that game. The Knights currently hold their best recruiting class in program history and recently unveiled an extensive facilities and stadium renovation plan.
These two programs should have so much in common and instead could not be more different. UCF invested in athletics every chance it could. It hired the right coaches, built facilities at warp speed and did everything in its power to position itself for an eventual Big 12 invite.
USF’s administration, at best, has been apathetic.
UCF fans will heartily disagree, but it’s truly too bad that things turned out this way. The Knights and Bulls always could have been more powerful together. We saw in 2017 how dual brand exposure could feed off itself to push both teams into the stratosphere. Truly great rivalries, with both programs firing on all cylinders, push teams to be the best versions of themselves.
But USF never embraced that simple fact, instead looking to sabotage UCF whenever it could. Perhaps their new rivalry with FAU will be more fruitful, but it doesn’t look likely with the Owls already possessing an on-campus stadium, better facilities and more fans before even entering the AAC.
The War on I4 could have become a staple of major college football. Instead, USF is the past and UCF is the future. And the rivalry itself will soon be forgotten.