TAMPA — They're perfect. They're supposed to win. They have everything to lose. We can take everything they have.
That's the speech I'm giving my Bulls if I'm USF coach Charlie Strong.
Today is the biggest game in USF football history. It's 9-1 USF at 10-0 UCF. I never thought I'd say UCF is the biggest game in USF history. I never thought UCF would be king of the hill.
But that's exactly who the 13th-ranked Knights are today. They're the ones that are sizzling. They're the ones who are perfect. UCF coach Scott Frost is the hottest name in coach-hiring not named Kelly.
Go wreck all that.
And don't forget the side bets.
Losing school gives the winner a thousand parking spaces.
Winning coach gets the Florida job.
Okay, maybe not.
Strong stood in a Raymond James Stadium hall last Thursday after USF held off Tulsa to set up the UCF showdown.
"I'm going to say they're the best team," Strong said of the Knights. "I'm not sure I believe it, but I'm going to say it. UCF is undefeated. They're the best team. They've got the whole thing. They got it all."
If you're Charlie, you tell your players something like this:
The pressure is on them. We're double-digit underdogs. People say we can't stop their offense. We can shock the world … or at least the I-4 corridor.
"It's not so much that you want to ruin their season." Strong said. "But both of you came for the same thing. They're undefeated, and we're not, but everything is still out there for us. Here's our shot."
It's all still there for No. 22 USF. A chance to ruin UCF's season. A chance to play in the AAC championship game in Memphis. A chance at the football program's first conference title, one it has been chasing for two decades. A shot at a New Year's Six Bowl, the Peach Bowl, which would be another USF first.
Granted, USF also has everything to lose. UCF can ruin USF's season. It's either the top of the world for the Bulls … or maybe the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl.
Want to motivate your kids, Charlie?
Have them pretend that UCF is ahead of USF as a football program. Pretend that UCF has better facilities, that it has an on-campus stadium (albeit a rusted, corroded Erector Set) and an indoor-practice building. Pretend that UCF already has been to a major bowl game.
All that stuff is true.
UCF also averages 48 points per game. USF will have to go all in. The defense will have to play the game of its life. This will have to be the full flowering of Bulls quarterback Quinton Flowers. USF better have held some plays back in reserve for this game. Halfback option, here we come.
To win the conference, USF needs consecutive road victories at UCF and at West Division champ Memphis, which are a combined 19-1. The Bulls are trying to summit along a ridge with a 7,000-foot dropoff on either side. One false step and it's gentlemen, start your Bad Boy Mowers.
If I'm Charlie and I lose today, I want to avoid the Bad Boy like the name alone is the plague. I'm fighting to take my team to Boca Raton or Annapolis. Not that it would matter. It would be tickets to nowhere. A failed season, plain and simple.
Today is the day.
Today is UCF.
If not now, when?
Back to last Thursday and Motivation Central.
"Everyone thinks they're better than us," Strong said.
"I like it."
Contact Martin Fennelly at email@example.com or (813) 731-8029.