Before the 2017 college football season began, few could have predicted the biggest in-state game during rivalry week would feature two non-Power 5 conference foes.
But Friday’s nationally televised showdown between 22nd-ranked South Florida (9-1) and No. 13 Central Florida (10-0) in Orlando will generate more buzz than Florida-Florida State, which features a pair of unranked teams with a combined record of 8-12.
The Bulls and Knights have one loss combined, and the winner will advance to the American Athletic Conference title game as the East Division champion to face West representative Memphis.
The USF-UCF matchup has national, state and local implications – several players from Manatee County are expected to play prominent roles.
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Here’s who to watch from the county:
The Manatee High graduate earned a scholarship this season at USF, and the defensive end has made good on coach Charlie Strong’s decision.
The redshirt sophomore has 43 tackles (12 for a loss), four sacks, three pass breakups and five quarterback hurries in 10 games.
A Manatee High alum, Hernandez spent 2016 on the Ray Guy Award watch list and has had another productive season at USF.
With an average of 42.6 yards per punt, including 16 fair catches and 12 inside the 20-yard line, Hernandez could be a big weapon for USF’s special teams in an effort to make UCF’s high-powered offense drive the length of the field.
Hernandez also is on the Ray Guy Award watch list this season.
Last year, Jackson was tasked with opening holes and providing pass blocking at Lakewood Ranch High.
This season, he’s slotted as the backup right guard at UCF and has played in all 10 games this season.
He is the lone local representing UCF.
The former Manatee High offensive lineman has played in six games this season and is listed as USF’s backup right guard on this week’s depth chart.
Another former Manatee Hurricane with the Bulls, Larkin has played in five games this season and is listed as a backup center on this week’s depth chart.
Who: No. 22 USF (9-1, 6-1, AAC) at No. 13 UCF (10-0, 7-0)
When: Friday, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Spectrum Stadium, Orlando