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Fennelly: USF-UCF rivalry needs more than directional disrespect

The USF Herd of Thunder play the school's fight song before the start of the game against the Temple Owls at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Thursday, September 21, 2017. OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times
The USF Herd of Thunder play the school's fight song before the start of the game against the Temple Owls at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Thursday, September 21, 2017. OCTAVIO JONES | Times
Published Nov. 22, 2017

TAMPA — It's the biggest football game in USF history.

It's two days and 90 miles away. USF at UCF. The 9-1 Bulls against the 10-0 Knights. It's USF coach Charlie Strong against UCF/Florida/Nebraska coach Scott Frost. It's the best these two programs have ever been at the same time.

Forget that unsightly disturbance in Gainesville on Saturday.

USF-UCF is the game.

If this is ever going to be a true rivalry, it starts Friday.

The schools have only played eight times (USF leads 6-2), so they have an uphill fight. Florida State and Florida will meet for the 62nd time Saturday. Alabama and Auburn will meet for the 82nd time. Michigan and Ohio State will meet for the 111th time.

USF-UCF is a baby in a crib, trying to make some noise. USF-UCF has a very heavy, year-old trophy with what looks like an interstate sign that can be pulled from the top like Excalibur.

USF opened in 1956. I-4 opened in 1959. UCF opened in 1963.

In other words, this rivalry doesn't have real history. It doesn't have one moment. It doesn't have real controversy. And it doesn't own outstanding quotes. Bear Bryant once said of Auburn, "Sure I'd like to beat Notre Dame, but nothing matters more than beating that cow college on the other side of the state."

Cow college.

Charlie, Scott, feel free to chime in.

Marriages haven't dissolved over USF-UCF, at least none that we know about. No psycho has ever assassinated trees over this rivalry. No USF player has ever trampled a UCF trombonist in the end zone while scoring to win it on the last play.

But strike up the band. USF-UCF has promise. Ask Bobby Bowden, who went through Florida-Florida State and Florida State-Miami.

"That rivalry is a natural," Bowden said of USF-UCF. "They're real close together. What they need is some big games."

That's Friday.

USF-UCF has had moments over the years.

Like when USF allegedly tried to block UCF from gaining admission to the Big East Conference. UCF eventually did join in 2013, though it was the American Athletic Conference by then. UCF promptly went 12-1 in its first AAC season and took the AAC title — oh, and beat Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl.

Zing!

There was the scramble to be part of the Big 12, when UCF wanted in over USF while USF talked of a package deal. The Big 12 gave both schools the high hat.

There was 2008, when UCF fans got USF quarterback Matt Grothe's cell phone number and proceeded to inundate him. As USF beat UCF in the game in Orlando, Grothe looked at UCF fans in the stands and pretended to be making phone calls.

There was 2007, when Jim Leavitt ran the score up on UCF in Tampa. There was 2013, when then-USF athletic director Doug Woolard had his car tires slashed at UCF's stadium. There was 2016, when Willie Taggart rubbed it in by scoring a touchdown with seconds left in 48-31 win. After the game, UCF's Frost told reporters, "this is one I'm gonna want."

UCF's slightly tacky media release for Friday's game referred to USF as "South Florida" or "So. Florida" or "S. Florida.

USF positively hates to be called South Florida.

It's directional disrespect.

I think I like where this rivalry is headed.