Is The War on I-4 Dead? Potential for UCF-USF Rivalry to Return

UCF USF Rivalry

The USF Bulls announced earlier this week that the team would be adding a two-game series with the FIU Panthers out of Conference USA. The series will begin in 2026. But does that impact the ability for the UCF-USF rivalry to return?

This addition, according to a press release from the school, “Fills USF’s future non-conference schedules through 2028 and leaves one date to fill in the 2029 season.”

This addition confirms that there is a question of what the future holds for the Bulls’ biggest rival, UCF. But it also puts into question what the future holds for the rivalry long term. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of room left in future USF schedules for UCF.

But before we look at the future rivalry’s potential, we must retrace our steps and look at the rivalry as a whole.

Humble Beginnings

The USF-UCF rivalry began in 2005. Both teams were in different conferences, similar to the situation set to occur at the end of this year’s athletic calendar.

At the time, USF had joined the Big East and was looking to become a giant killer.

For UCF, they too would move conferences, jumping from the MAC to the Conference USA.

The early years of the rivalry were dominated by USF. The Knights won all four of the meetings between the two teams when they were in different conferences.

The rivalry after that would take a hiatus, similar to what will happen for the next few years.

But for the last decade, USF and UCF have been able to extend this rivalry. With both teams being in the American Athletic Conference, the match-ups have been handed to them.

Throughout the years, USF and UCF put together classic college football games, such as the 2017 thriller. UCF won 49-42 when Mike Hughes returned a kickoff 95 yards with under two minutes left in the game. It gave the Knights their first undefeated season in program history.

What’s Next

Looking at the current state of the future out-of-conference schedules for the Bulls, nearly everything is filled.

The Bulls have loaded up with premier opponents. They have games in 2023, 2024, and 2026 versus Alabama. They also have out-of-conference games slated against Florida, Miami, Notre Dame, NC State, and Louisville. USF will get a lot of credit for scheduling so many P5 opponents. But they may be doing so at the expense of the rivalry games with USF.

But the school has also scheduled series against other Groups of Five teams as well as some FCS games. Some of those games are there for the hoped-for or presumed wins. But that puts 2029 as the earliest the rivalry could return. In the ever-evolving world of college football, that is a long time to skip your in-state rival.

It’s a potential mixed bag of results for USF. Fans want it all. They want to see the premier programs on the calendar. They want the rivalry game. But they also want more wins. And USF is trying to move forward with the development of an on-campus stadium. That requires funding, something the games against the bigger programs bring. Playing against the bigger teams can be a boost to recruiting. But beating your in-state rival usually helps more. There will come a day when USF wants to be able to join a P5 conference. It has to show that it can compete at the highest levels, with good facilities, and good recruiting.

Its rivalry with UCF may be collateral damage in exchange for the growth of the program.

UCF USF Rivalry

Photo courtesy:  Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports