It's the sixth installment of the "I-4 Corridor Clash" on Friday in Tampa as Central Florida visits South Florida. I-4 is the interstate that connects Orlando to Tampa. The Knights opened as 12-point favorites.
AAC Repeat in Cards for Knights?
This was expected to be a bit of a rebuilding season for Coach George O'Leary at Central Florida after the Knights had the best season in school history in 2013. Led by star quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson, UCF won the American Athletic Conference championship and beat heavily favored Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl 52-42. Bortles was then the No. 3 overall pick by Jacksonville in the NFL Draft and Johnson was chosen in the seven round by the Jaguars.
Despite losing a lot of talent, UCF still has a shot at repeating as AAC champion. The Knights (7-3, 5-1) are tied with Cincinnati a half game behind Memphis (8-3, 6-1) for the AAC lead. There is no conference championship game, and UCF and Memphis don't play this season. UCF closes the regular season next week at East Carolina while Memphis is done after Saturday's home game vs. UConn. There will be an AAC Championship Game starting in 2015 as the league is splitting into two six-team divisions. UCF and USF will be in the East along with Cincinnati, East Carolina, Temple and Connecticut.
UCF's lone conference loss came at UConn on Nov. 1. It seemed to really wake Central Florida up as it has followed with a 31-7 home blowout of Tulsa and then last week a 53-7 rout of an SMU team that might be the worst in all the FBS. Josh Holman had two TD throws and Dontravious Wilson two rushing TDs in the first quarter alone as the Knights jumped out to a 27-0 lead. UCF had 247 yards of offense in the quarter and forced two SMU turnovers. The Mustangs would cough it up five times overall and manage just four first downs and 116 total yards.
That this game is on a Friday seems to bode well for UCF. The Knights are 12-5 all-time on Friday and have won six straight on that day. Central Florida also has won 13 consecutive non-Saturday games.
UCF is 6-4 against the spread on NCAA football odds and 5-5 'over/under.'
USF Concludes Season
Coach Willie Taggert is rebuilding the South Florida program. The Bulls won just two games last season but have been much more competitive this season at 4-7 overall and 3-4 in the AAC. USF still isn't a very good offensive team, ranking 117th nationally in points (18.7), 112th in rushing (117.3 ypg) and 93rd in passing (196.9 ypg).
This is South Florida's season finale. The Bulls lost 31-20 at Memphis last week, meaning the team will miss a bowl game for the fourth straight season. True freshman running back Marlon Mack had 16 carries for 102 yards and a career-best 75-yard touchdown run. He is only the third South Florida player and first freshman to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. Mack ranks fourth on USF’s single-season rushing charts with 1,009 yards. His four 100-yard games are the most in a season since B.J. Daniels had four in 2009. Andre Hall owns the top two single-season rushing marks in school history with 1,374 yards in 2005 and 1,357 yards in 2004.
The Bulls played Memphis without three key players. Starting left guard Thor Jozwiak and receiver Rodney Adams were out due to injuries. Senior defensive tackle Elkino Watson was suspended for the game for violating team rules. All three could return. Also keep an eye on the status of QB Mike White. He left with a leg injury with 4:51 remaining in the Memphis game. White had completed 21 of 35 passes for 244 yards after winning the competition for the starting job in practice last week. Steven Bench replaced White and was 6-for-11 for 57 yards and a touchdown. White says he's OK and should play. He started earlier this season but was benched for a game vs. Houston on Nov. 1. White then relieved freshman Quinton Flowers the next week against SMU and threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes, including the winner with four seconds left.
South Florida is 6-5 against the spread at sportsbooks and 4-7 'over/under.'
South Florida leads 4-1. The Knights got their first win last season, 23-20 in Orlando when UCF was ranked 19th in the country. It was the first time the teams had played since 2008. Bortles found Breshad Perriman for a 52-yard touchdown pass with 4:50 left in the fourth quarter. White's pass was intercepted by Jordan Ozerities at the UCF 26-yard line with 1:20 left in the game. Neither team had 300 yards of offense and there were a combined seven turnovers.
This is USF's bowl game so expect a very spirited effort. Take the points. USF has covered four of the past five meetings so consider this before making your College Football pick. The Bulls have covered six of their past eight vs. teams with a winning record. Expect a low-scoring game.
Free College Football Pick: Pick South Florida to Cover UCF at 5Dimes