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Thursday NCAA Football

Thursday Night College Football – Temple vs. East Carolina

An AAC East contest headlines the Thursday night pairing to open the October college football schedule. Here is a look at Temple and East Carolina, a game featuring one of the lowest totals of the week in a matchup of three-win squads looking for conference win #1.

Match-up: Temple Owls at East Carolina Pirates

Venue: Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, North Carolina

Time/TV: Thursday, October 3, 8:00 PM ET ESPN

Line: Temple -11½, Over/Under 46½

Last Meeting: 2018 At Temple (-10½) 49, East Carolina 6

East Carolina was a bowl fixture in the late 1990s through the mid-2000s. Steve Logan went 67-55 over 11 years for the Pirates with five bowl appearances and a successful transition to Conference USA. He resigned after a disappointing 2002 season and the program fell off a cliff with John Thompson going 3-20 over two seasons before being released. Skip Holtz took over and the program was relevant for five seasons before he jumped to South Florida and Ruffin McNeill was able to mostly sustain that success over six years including the final two years in the move to the American. After going 5-7 in 2015 he was fired and history repeated itself with an ugly short-term run for the Pirates under Scottie Montgomery.

The Pirates hope they have found a stable presence for years to come on the sidelines with Mike Houston. Still relatively young at 47, Houston led successful but brief runs at three different programs, most recently going 37-6 over three season at James Madison, including the 2016 FCS Championship which was the only title miss over the past eight seasons for FCS powerhouse North Dakota State. While his offenses ran the option at the Lenoir-Rhyne and The Citadel he has employed a spread at James Madison and at East Carolina, with hopes of capturing the high-scoring potential his Dukes teams had. There has been good balance so far with the Pirates rushing about 38 times per game and throwing 31 times per game.

An appealing underdog in the season opener, East Carolina lost 34-6 at NC State in a lopsided contest but the Pirates have quietly won three of the past four games. Two of those wins were over FCS teams however as last week’s narrow 24-21 win at Old Dominion was the first FBS win of the season. Against NC State and Navy East Carolina lost by a combined score 76-16 while out-gained by 236 and 246 yards respectively, though both of those games were on the road.

Holton Ahlers was named the starting quarterback late in the summer and the sophomore that completed only 48 percent of his passes last season but had 12 touchdowns and only three interceptions has mostly struggled this season. Ahlers has upped his completion rate to 54 percent but already has five interceptions and has lost a half-yard from last season in yards per attempt. East Carolina is running the ball with 867 yards in five games for 4.5 yards per attempt with Ahlers posting 186 yards on the ground and Demetrius Mauney leading the team with 199 rushing yards. Last season East Carolina rushed for only 3.6 yards per carry as there has been clear improvement.

East Carolina will host South Florida at the end of the month and will head to Connecticut in November but the rest of the AAC path is difficult with the Pirates likely to be a double-digit underdog in four of the next five games counting this week’s game. Since 2003 East Carolina is 24-21 in the home underdog role including a handful of power five upsets while on a 10-7 ATS run as a double-digit home underdog, even with those numbers deteriorating significantly in the ugly run the past three years.

Temple had a messy off-season after Geoff Collins left the program after two seasons to take over Georgia Tech. The Owls hired Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz but a few weeks later he was brought back to Miami after Mark Richt retired. Rod Carey was hired after a successful run at Northern Illinois and is now the fifth coach for the program since 2006, not counting Diaz or interim coach Ed Foley.

Temple hasn’t been thought of as one of the top Group of 5 programs often but since 2015 the Owls are 38-20 S/U and 39-19 ATS for records that few programs can match. Temple is 3-1 this season with wins over a pair of major conference teams but losing by 16 against a MAC team, which has some similarities to last season’s erratic start, opening the season with a loss to FCS Villanova before going on to win eight games. Last season’s game was obviously a big one with Collins returning to face his old team and Temple won 24-2 though with only a minimal production edge but catching huge turnover breaks with a 74-yard defensive score, a goal line fumble recovery, and a 65-yard interception return.

Carey replaced current NC State head coach Dave Doeren at Northern Illinois at the end of the 2012 season, making his head coaching debut in the Orange Bowl. He ultimately went 52-30 in six-plus seasons with the Huskies though going 0-6 in bowl games but with four division titles and two MAC Championships. Carey’s track record promoted running the ball and stopping the run with the Huskies ranking third nationally in per carry run defense last season. So far this season Temple has held foes to only 133 rushing yards per game on 3.2 yards per carry but the offense is led by the passing attack.

Junior quarterback Anthony Russo has thrown 151 times in four games and his season line is inflated by posting 409 yards and four touchdowns vs. FCS Bucknell in the opener. Against FBS completion Russo has completed just 49 percent of his passes and in those three games he has five interceptions and just six touchdowns and just 6.0 yards per attempt. In fairness he faced Maryland and Georgia Tech teams in two of those games and ultimately led his team to wins in those games despite the marginal numbers though three interceptions vs. Buffalo were certainly a big factor in the upset loss.

This is the AAC opener for Temple and three difficult games will follow this contest with a challenging West draw of Memphis and SMU in back-to-back weeks before hosting UCF. Temple also plays at Cincinnati late in the season as despite a 3-1 start there will be work to do to get to a bowl game. Last season Temple played UCF about as well as any of the other American squads in a 52-40 loss in Orlando while the Owls were able to beat Navy, Cincinnati, and Houston as this team shouldn’t be ruled out of the AAC East race either.

There aren’t many negative trends for Temple in recent years and the Owls are 11-3 ATS since 2014 as a road favorite while 27-11 ATS in all road games since 2013. Temple is 5-1 in the last six instances as a double-digit road favorite, though losing at -14 at Buffalo in September.

Series History: Meeting each of the last five years as AAC foes Temple is 5-0 S/U and 5-0 ATS in this series with every win coming by at least 10 points. Temple won 34-10 in 2017 as a slight favorite in the last trip to Greenville while the teams also met regularly in the late 1980s and early 1990s as fellow Independents. Temple is on an 8-1 ATS run in this series since 1989 and historically 7-5 S/U and 8-3-1 ATS in this series since 1986.

There is also a Sun Belt contest Thursday night to kick off the college football week as Georgia Southern visits South Alabama in a division crossover game. Both teams lost their conference openers last week and sit with just one win each on the season through September.

Match-up: Georgia Southern Eagles at South Alabama Jaguars

Venue: Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama

Time/TV: Thursday, October 3, 7:30 PM ET ESPNU

Line: Georgia Southern -10½, Over/Under 45½

Last Meeting: 2018 At Georgia Southern (-12) 48, South Alabama 13

Georgia Southern won 10 games last season and finished just behind Appalachian State and Troy in the Sun Belt East race finishing 6-2. In a 1-3 start the Eagles haven’t had their typical rushing success so far this season however. Losing badly to LSU was certainly forgivable and Georgia Southern nearly had an upset at Minnesota as this squad could still emerge as a winning team. Last week vs. a Louisiana-Lafayette at home Georgia Southern was soundly out-gained turning back to Shai Werts at quarterback but it was a three-point game into the fourth quarter.

Steve Campbell went 33-15 at FCS Central Arkansas and was considered a great hire by South Alabama, though the team did have mixed success over nine years under Joey Jones, including two bowl trips in six years after making the jump to the FBS level and a huge upset over Mississippi State in 2016. Campbell inherited an inexperienced team and the Jaguars mostly struggled in a 3-9 debut season. At 1-4 the returns have been no better this season though the Jaguars did give Nebraska a scare in the season opener. The only win came vs. FCS Jacksonville State though the only FBS home game was a difficult draw vs. Memphis. While South Alabama scored late to make a 30-10 game 30-17 last week, they were only minimally out-gained and rushed for 263 yards to offer some promise moving forward.

Series History: Meeting each of the last five years Georgia Southern is 5-0 S/U and 5-0 ATS in this series with every win coming by at least 15 points. The past two meetings have both been at home with a 24-9 win in 2016 for Georgia Southern in the last visit to Mobile.