The annual War on I-4 has never been more important as undefeated Central Florida hosts South Florida on Friday afternoon with a spot in the American Athletic Conference Championship on the line. The 12th-ranked Knights have rolled along while scoring at least 31 points in all 10 victories while USF dropped one contest to Houston, but its senior-laden lineup is primed to reach their first conference title game.
“We’ve really been waiting for this game since last year,” UCF junior receiver Tre’Quan Smith told reporters of last season’s 48-31 loss - the second straight in the series. “We all remember what happened last year and basically, it’s like payback. We’re ready to go to war.” The Knights are led by sophomore quarterback McKenzie Milton, who has thrown for almost 3,000 yards and 26 touchdowns while completing 69.6 percent of his passes for the nation’s top scoring offense (48.2). Senior quarterback Quinton Flowers keys the South Florida offense with 17 scoring strikes and nine touchdowns on the ground with a team-high 870 rushing yards while the Bulls are tied for second in the nation with 17 interceptions. “We have not put together a complete game yet,” USF coach Charlie Strong told reporters. “It’s maybe one half on offense and then the next half the defense steps up. … In all three phases, we have yet to see a complete game and we need a complete game this game. That’s what it’s going to take - a total team effort.”
TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC. LINE: UCF -11
ABOUT SOUTH FLORIDA (9-1, 6-1 AAC): Flowers has been the most prolific offensive player in school history and rushed for at least 119 yards in three of his last four games, but completed 53.5 percent of passes during his senior season thus far. The Bulls have plenty of offensive weapons to support Flowers with senior running backs Darius Tice (860 yards, 10 TDs rushing) and D’Ernest Johnson (715, seven) along with senior receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling (48 catches, 737 yards). USF will need a big effort from its inconsistent defense, which is led by senior linebacker Auggie Sanchez (school-record 378 career tackles) and has allowed 19.9 points per contest.
ABOUT CENTRAL FLORIDA (10-0, 7-0): Milton, who threw for 225 yards with two interceptions against USF last year, has not been picked off while tossing six touchdown strikes in the last two contests. Smith is the top target for Milton with 44 catches for 850 yards and 11 scores, and sophomore running back Adrian Killins Jr. is a key home run threat with 629 yards along with eight touchdowns on the ground. “(Killins) might not fit a lot of schemes but he definitely fits ours,” UCF coach Scott Frost told reporters as his team goes for its first AAC title game appearance. “He’s not the biggest guy in the world but he’s got elite speed, and we knew we could use that in our system.”
1. Flowers needs 146 yards to become USF’s all-time rushing leader, passing Marlon Mack, and 96 to break Matt Grothe’s team total offense record (10,875).
2. UCF junior LB Pat Jasinski boasts at least six tackles in nine straight games and leads the way with 76 for UCF, which leads the nation in turnover margin per game (plus-1.6).
3. The Bulls have won six of the eight all-time meetings after scoring at least 44 points in each of the last two showdowns.
PREDICTION: South Florida 34, Central Florida 31