OPINION: Gators could be embarrassed if they don’t take UCF seriously

·3 min read

The Florida-UCF rivalry has always been a bit like a younger brother pestering an older brother for approval. Maybe that will get me some flack from my fellow UCF alumni, but let’s be honest, we knew claiming a national championship would be annoying and we wanted it to be.

That’s the UCF marketing strategy. Be loud, be proud and don’t lose when it matters most (see the 2018 Peach Bowl). Well, it’s time for another big game and this one is against the top dog in the state. A win over Florida would be massive for the Knights, especially after accepting a 2-and-1 series that favors the Gators earlier in the year. Game 1 of that agreement is in 2024, so whoever takes this one will go into it with some bragging rights.

So, how does Florida stop UCF from getting a huge momentum boost of a win?

The Gators need to take the Knights seriously. Not just now, but moving forward. There was a certain energy present against FSU that wasn’t there for any other Florida game this season. UCF will have that energy on Thursday, and it needs to be matched for this game to stay close.

The outcome could also affect recruiting. With UCF joining the Big 12 and soon to be out of the Group of Five, Guz Malzahn is looking at some of the same recruits Florida will.

To go back to the sibling analogy, maybe little brother UCF isn’t so little anymore. To make things worse, Florida’s not exactly Florida this year, which makes it a bit like playing 1-on-1 with your brother while having a bum ankle.

UF moved on from Dan Mullen, and Billy Napier is beginning to make changes to the program. But Interim coach Greg Knox will be at the helm for this one and at least two starters have entered the transfer portal. Quarterback Anthony Richardson is recovering from injury, so Emory Jones will make the start before entering the transfer portal as well.

The odds are certainly stacked against Florida in this one, and motivation has been in question all season. South Carolina put up 40 on this team without some of the losses and LSU set a school record for rushing yards earlier in the year against them.

Auburn was stunned when UCF kept up with them in the 2018 Peach Bowl and eventually won. Florida can’t afford to let that happen. On paper, the Gators have more talent, but the execution just hasn’t been there to rely on a second-half comeback against a good team. Underestimating teams is what Florida’s done best this year, and UCF loves to be the underdog against an SEC team.

It may have been easy to ignore little brother for a while, but now Florida can’t deny UCF the attention it deserves. It should be a close game if both teams are at their best on Thursday, and a narrow margin of victory makes for a healthy rivalry down the road.

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