Well. It might be happening.
After months of non-committal responses from both sides, it appears that there is mutual interest between UCF and USF in resuming the War on I-4.
Any new matchup would presumably be years away – The Knights don’t have an opening until 2028 and the Bulls are booked for the decade – but that hasn’t stopped both fanbases from already debating whether the rivalry should continue.
Leaving USF behind in the AAC as UCF heads to the Big 12 has been a huge deal for Knight fans, and rightfully so.
But, at the end of the day, this rivalry should continue. And UCF fans who think otherwise may not be seeing the bigger picture.
Here are the top reasons that the War on I-4 potentially returning is a good thing.
The idea of “legitimizing” USF is a myth
When UCF fans scoff at the idea of continuing to play USF, they usually do so based off a common fear: That continuing to play the Bulls will help to elevate their program.
The theory is not entirely without merit. After all, it’s a big part of the reason that USF opted to stop playing UCF following several close calls in the four-game series that was played from 2005 to 2008.
But, at the end of the day, it’s a myth. The Bulls will not have some fantastical new ability to legitimize themselves just because they get to keep playing the Knights.
When UCF joined the AAC, USF’s biggest fear came true. The Knights rose up to become a national brand and established themselves as one of the rising teams in all of college football. But they didn’t accomplish that because they started beating the Bulls. In fact, virtually no one outside of Florida noticed or cared that UCF was now the dominant team in that rivalry.
The Knights became a brand by beating Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl and Auburn in the Peach Bowl. By winning 25 games in a row and hosting College GameDay.
There is a very real chance that USF can get itself together as a program over the next decade. The school has finally approved construction of an on-campus stadium, Alex Golesh has a sound recruiting strategy and the athletic department will be richer than most of its conference opponents.
But if 10 years from now the Bulls are back on track, it won’t be because they had a series with the Knights. It will be because they finally got Tampa talent to stay home and started winning the AAC, finishing in the Top 25 or even making the 12-team playoff.
Whether they had a win or two against UCF in that span will be largely inconsequential outside of the immediate community. Recruits don’t flip their commitments from one school to another over rivalry wins. USF returning to its glory days or continuing to crumble is not contingent on whether UCF was on the schedule.
UCF needs all the regional matchups it can get
Finally making it into the Power Five is a huge moment for UCF, one that was decades in the making. But there’s no point ignoring the fact that the Knights are a massive regional outlier in the Big 12.
The nearest conference opponent is literally four states away and there is nothing close to even resembling a travel partner.
The Knights have historically had no issue scheduling non-conference games against multiple out-of-state Power Five teams. But now, they’re guaranteed to have at least nine of those on the schedule every year.
It’s going to become increasingly important for the program to give itself a breather from travelling in its non-conference slate. USF can help with that in a big way.
UCF could guarantee itself an additional game in the state of Florida every year by alternating a home and away series with USF. On top of alleviating travel for the team and keeping them more rested for the conference schedule, a renewed War on I4 also gives Knight Nation an easy road trip to send thousands of fans to.
Right now, Knight fans are enamored with all the new destinations available to them in the Big 12. Fast forward seven or eight years from now when the novelty has worn off, fans may be grateful for an easy-to-make in-state trip every other year.
The potential of the War on I-4
The War on I-4 has produced great games over the years. Unfortunately, they have been well off the national radar as of late given USF’s struggles. But the 2017 matchup was a peek into what the rivalry could truly become.
Both UCF and USF were in the midst of historic seasons and the game was an incredible back-and-forth affair.
4.7 million TV viewers. The most watched regular season game in UCF’s history.
That offseason, the War on I4 was consistently talked up as one of the great emerging rivalries of college football. It even made its way onto various lists ranking the best CFB rivalries from major publications like ESPN.
The Bulls’ program collapsed shortly after and the rivalry has never again had the stakes necessary to make it appointment viewing for a national audience. But all of that potential is still there.
Make no mistake: Being a part of a big-time rivalry would be huge for UCF. And it’s far from an easy thing to create.
As fierce as the UCF-Cincinnati “rivalry” has been, no game in that series has ever come close to being as nationally relevant as the 2017 War on I4, even though the stakes have often been just as high.
There’s something special and difficult to replicate about a regional rivalry where both fanbases truly hate each other.
If USF does manage to get its program back on track and become an annually successful team, it would be a shame if it wasn’t facing off in games against UCF that would get tons of national hype and provide a major brand boost for both teams.
Rivalries are what College Football is all about
Let’s take just a moment and forget about all the auxiliary factors we diehard fans get hung up on when arguing about our teams.
Forget about conference affiliations. Forget about media rights payouts. Forget about stadium capacities or TV viewership numbers or any of the other minutiae fanbases use to snipe at each other.
College football, at its core, is about great rivalries. It always has been.
Ohio State-Michigan. Texas-Oklahoma. Alabama-Auburn. All the way down to Louisville-Kentucky or Oregon-Oregon State.
These are the matchups that define the sport. They’re the wins that are talked about for decades, that are brought up year after year around water coolers in offices across the country and get circled on calendars a season in advance.
As amazing as college football continues to be, we’ve lost a lot of what originally made it so great. Regional conferences have given way to sprawling mega leagues. Scheduling has shifted from matchups fans of teams want to see to what best boosts a resume or helps chart a path to the playoff.
UCF moving to the Big 12 is a huge deal. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t have to cost the fans a game that, regardless of what they say, they care deeply about. In fact, they care so much about it that they go out of their way every day to tell anyone who will listen how much they don’t care.
The War on I4 should continue because it’s fun. Because these fanbases truly hate each other. Because this is what college football is supposed to be.