For the Knights, a win and they’re in the American Athletic Conference championship game.
The Bulls can deny UCF’s shot at an AAC title while tying the ‘War On I-4′ rivalry at 7 games apiece before the series gets put on hold for the foreseeable future because of the Knights’ departure for the Big 12 Conference next year.
“We have a chance to win the ‘War on I-4′ trophy and we also have a chance to keep them from having an opportunity to win another trophy,” said De Prato, who was named USF’s interim coach on Nov. 6 after Jeff Scott was fired. “Based on last week’s events, they need to win this game to get into the conference championship game.
“We’re kind of playing for two trophies — one for us to keep here in Tampa and then one for us to keep them from having the opportunity to play for [the AAC title],” he added. “Our kids are excited about that.”
While UCF has put itself in a position to play for its first conference championship since 2018 and potentially a spot in the New Year’s Six Cotton Bowl, Saturday’s game will be the last one for USF.
The Bulls’ only win came against Howard on Sept. 10 and since then they’ve lost nine games in a row.
Despite USF’s poor record, Da Prato believes his team can win.
“They have a good ballclub,” he said about the Knights. “They’ve done a very good job, but our focus needs to be on us handling our business and performing well on our end. If we focus on us and minimize the self-inflicted errors, we’ll put ourselves in a position to win this ballgame and get ourselves a trophy.”
His quarterback, Byrum Brown, will be making his second start. Last week at Tulsa, the freshman had a stellar debut by throwing 3 touchdowns and for 240 yards on 21-for-25 passing to go with 76 rushing yards and another score on the ground.
“I’m going to continue to do the same thing and prepare to do my best and see where it goes,” said Brown, who referred to UCF as the “team up the street” when speaking with reporters this week.
Although it’s Brown’s first and likely last taste of the ‘War on I-4,’ he understands the rivalry’s importance. USF’s senior class hasn’t beaten UCF.
“[We are] very hungry because we’ll know we’ll have it for five years because we won’t be playing them,” Brown said about the rivalry trophy. “Mainly the seniors, they would like to go out the right way with a win.”
While Da Prato knows his starting quarterback, he’s not sure who will start for UCF.
UCF coach Gus Malzahn said Monday that John Rhys Plumlee will start if he’s healthy. Plumlee missed the second half last week vs. Navy due to a right (throwing) shoulder injury suffered against Tulane the previous game. Mikey Keene, who started 10 games as a true freshman last season, took his place.
“They need to be ready for both of them to be in the game and have a plan for both of them,” Da Prato said. “Whichever one trots out there to start, we’ll be ready for him.
“However that goes throughout the course of the game, we’ll be ready to adjust.”