No. 22 UCF blew its chance to host the American Athletic Conference championship game with last weekend’s shocking loss to Navy but goes into its regular-season finale Saturday against South Florida at Tampa, Fla., still with an opportunity to play for the league championship.
While Tulane and Cincinnati will be playing this weekend for the right to host the title game on Dec. 3, the Knights (8-3, 5-2 AAC) could earn the visitor’s spot with a win over the Bulls (1-10, 0-7).
The Knights hold the tiebreaking edge over both Tulane and Cincinnati – and if Houston also wins Saturday, the resulting three-way tie could go all the way to a composite computer ranking. With UCF No. 22 in this week’s CFP rankings, the Knights would appear to hold an advantage over unranked Houston.
If Houston loses to Tulane, a UCF victory over USF would leave the Knights in the clear as the No. 2 team.
“We win the game (at South Florida) I like our chances,” UCF coach Gus Malzahn said. “That’s really about it.”
The tendency would be to take a win over the struggling Bulls for granted, but Malzahn knows all too well that a win last week over 3-7 Navy did not materialize. And he remembers last year’s 17-13 UCF squeaker of a victory over a two-win South Florida team.
“We’re not overlooking them, especially with what happened last year,” Malzahn said. “And they were in a similar situation.”
One difference is that Jeff Scott, who was coaching the Bulls that game, was fired earlier this month and special teams coordinator Daniel Da Prato is serving as South Florida’s interim coach.
Malzahn confirmed that John Rhys Plumlee will start at quarterback for UCF if he is healthy after missing the second half last week with a shoulder problem. Mikey Keene finished the loss to Navy.
“John Rhys is our starting quarterback,” Malzah said. “We’re fortunate enough to have a guy like Mikey right there ready to go. We’ll see how practice goes.”
USF, meanwhile, gave freshman Byrum Brown his first collegiate start last week and he responded with 240 yards and three touchdowns passing, and 76 and another score on the ground, in a 48-42 loss to Tulsa. His performance did not surprise Da Prato.
“Since the day he got here he has prepared for that opportunity,” Da Prato said. “And he’s prepared properly.”
This will be the last meeting between the rivals for a while. UCF is leaving the AAC to join the Big 12 in 2023.