COLUMBIA — Before Steve Spurrier and his players met with the media this week, the uncomfortable truth about Saturday was openly discussed.
South Carolina is about to enter a game that is unquestionably more important for its opponent. When it enters Bright House Networks Stadium in Orlando, Fla., for a noon kickoff against Central Florida, the target on USC’s back will be of historic proportions.
UCF’s home stadium seats 45,301 fans, less than half the crowd USC faced three weeks ago in Athens, Ga. The crowd volume will be several decibels less than it was between the hedges. Spurrier said he still expects “sky high” intensity.
“We know this one’s going to be in a hostile environment,” Spurrier said. “Their crowd is going to be loud and screaming, but we’ve been in those situations before. If you’re going to have a good team, you’re going to have to go into those places and beat the other team. So we know what to expect. Whether or not we can do it, that’s why we play the games.
“It’s an opportunity for South Carolina to take our football show on the road and see what we can do.”
UCF hopes to take that show and wreck it for the entire nation to see.
The Knights, playing their first game ever on network television (ABC/WCIV), will try to beat a ranked opponent for just the second time in program history. The first came four years ago against Houston, which was also ranked No. 12 in the country.
A win would make UCF 4-0 for the first time in 25 years.
At least one local columnist labeled Saturday’s game arguably the most important in UCF’s history. The Knights have anticipated this matchup throughout the past year. The Gamecocks (2-1) have thought about it a little more than a week.
Junior cornerback Victory Hampton called it a “sleeper” game. He hopes directly addressing the potential danger will prevent his team from overlooking Central Florida, which plays in the American Athletic Conference.
“I just tell my guys, ‘Put yourselves in their shoes,’” Hampton said. “If we were playing, and we had the No. 12 team coming in, and we were 3-0, and we’re at home, and sold out all our tickets, how are we gonna approach the game? So when you tell them that, they get it. We don’t have to go down there with our heads down or anything like that. We’re going to go down, and we’re gonna play South Carolina football.”
Hampton knows UCF isn’t simply chasing pipe dreams. The Knights, a seven-point underdog, have the talent on their home field to compete with the Gamecocks. If USC isn’t careful, UCF could pull off an upset. The last time they played a game, the Knights were walking away from Happy Valley with a 34-31 win against Penn State.
Any hopes for an upset begin with UCF quarterback Blake Bortles. Behind Louisville quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Teddy Bridgewater, Bortles may be the second-best signal caller in the AAC. Completing 71.4 percent of his passes this season, Borltes has thrown for 816 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception in three games.
“He has a strong arm,” Hampton said. “He can throw from hash to hash, sideline to sideline. So, on any given play as a cornerback or safety, you have to be ready for the ball to come your way.”
It will take that kind of alertness on every play, from every position, for USC to get the job done this weekend. This is a business trip to Orlando, not a vacation.
While everyone mentions what UCF can accomplish with a win, senior cornerback Jimmy Legree is more focused on what his team can gain.
“It’s an opportunity for us to come into their town and shut them down,” Legree said.