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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.

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#534 Missouri -1.5 over Temple 8:00 PM

Missouri added Illinois transfer Mark Smith this season along with returning seniors Jordan Geist and Kevin Puryear. Cuonzo Martin led this team to 20 wins last season and the NCAA Tournament while playing much of the year without key players and this year’s team has similar potential currently being led by Jeremiah Tilmon who has flourished in an enhanced role so far this season.

 

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Missouri is only 3-2 so far this season but the losses came to Iowa State and Kansas State, teams that figure to be top 25 caliber teams all year long. The win over Oregon State in St. Thomas is a decent result and this will be just the second home game in Columbia all season. This squad has posted good defensive numbers through a top 75 schedule so far.

 

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Temple is 5-1 but only a narrow home win over Georgia stands out. This will be the first true road game of the season for the Owls who played in Brooklyn last week, losing to VCU and beating California, a win that sounds much better than it appears to be at this point. The Owls as usual have a solid defensive profile for Fran Dunphy in his 13th season with the program. The past two seasons Temple is just one game above .500 however and while there is continuity as all five starters were on the roster last season it may again be a limited group with poor outside shooting potential.

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Thursday NCAA – Temple at UCF

Thursday Night College Football – Temple at UCF

10/30/2018

This week’s Thursday night ESPN game comes out of the American Athletic Conference with a pair teams that have matching 4-0 records in the AAC East. Temple visits Central Florida tonight in a game that could decide the division title as the Knights host Thursday night football looking to extend a 20-game winning streak.

Match-up: Temple Owls at Central Florida Golden Knights

Venue: At Spectrum Stadium in Orlando, Florida

Time/TV: Thursday, November 1, 7:30 PM ET ESPN

Line: UCF -10½, Over/Under 61

Last Meeting: 2017, UCF (-12) 45, at Temple 19

A spotlight opportunity for Central Florida Thursday will give the team with the nation’s-longest winning streak a chance to make its case for College Football Playoff consideration in front of a larger audience. Going 13-0 last season, UCF is 7-0 this season for 20 consecutive wins since losing in bowl action in December of 2016. The Knights are 13-7 ATS in that span including 7-4 ATS in home games.

It has seemingly been an easy transition for former Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Heupel taking over the program after Scott Frost left for Nebraska after just two seasons in Orlando. The Knights needed a big comeback for a 31-30 win at Memphis but that has been the only drama on the field in the 7-0 start with every other win coming by at least 20 points.

UCF is up to #9 in both the AP and Coaches Polls but there is no realistic shot for UCF to get serious national playoff consideration. Not that it would have made a big difference but a road game at North Carolina was cancelled in September to deplete the schedule further as the only power conference win came at home against Pittsburgh. That 45-14 results looks a bit stronger at this point in the season with Pittsburgh looking like an a decent ACC team but unless there is major chaos in the major conferences down the stretch or  several upsets on championship Saturday, it seems unlikely that a potential 12-0 UCF team will even be considered for the final four.

Making the assumption that the Knights will run the table is a big leap as the toughest AAC games of the season remain in a stacked November schedule starting this week. Home games with Navy and Cincinnati follow before a road finale at South Florida. UCF would then need to beat the West champion, likely Houston in the AAC title game.

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Quarterback McKenzie Milton was a surprise scratch for the last game at East Carolina on October 20. Milton was discussed early in the season as potential Heisman candidate but his numbers this season haven’t come close to matching his great 2017 figures. He is averaging 1.2 fewer yards per pass while posting only 16 touchdowns after throwing 37 last season while not even a third of the way to last season’s rushing total. Information on his injury has been limited and he has been considered day-to-day this week. The Knights threw for just 111 yards without Milton in the win over East Carolina, leaning on the ground game with 316 rushing yards with freshman Daniel Mack taking over at quarterback.

Expectations were high for Temple this season in the second season under Geoff Collins. Losses to FCS Villanova and Buffalo started the season but the Owls have rallied to win five of the last six games with the only loss at Boston College. Wins over Maryland and Navy on the road were impressive and in the last game Temple snuck out a fortunate narrow win over Cincinnati to move to 4-0 in conference play.

Like UCF, Temple still has a tough remaining schedule as even if they win this game there would be no guarantee they could hold on to the division title with Cincinnati and South Florida close behind at 3-1. Temple still plays South Florida in mid-November and will also have a tough crossover game with West leader Houston next week.

Temple is also dealing with key injuries with running back Ryquell Armstead and defensive tackle Freddie Booth-Lloyd question marks this week. Armstead leads the team with 626 rushing yards despite missing the past two games and they have missed his production with the Owls posting only 3.8 yards per rush on the season but Armstead averaging 5.1 yards per carry. UCF is one of the nation’s top rushing teams with 5.8 yards per attempt and 261 yards per game as Armstead would be important in helping the Owls keep pace on the ground.

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Temple is the surprise national leader in yards per pass attempt allowed defensively, surrendering only 4.5 yards per pass attempt as even if Milton plays, UCF is likely going to have to lean on the ground game. The Owls have 24 sacks and eight interceptions while allowing only nine passing touchdowns. Only Michigan has held opposing quarterbacks to a lower QB Rating this season.

Against a lighter schedule UCF also has very good numbers defending the pass. Frank Nutile took over at quarterback last season with success for the Owls but after a slow start sophomore Anthony Russo moved into the starting role for Temple. Russo has good size but has been mistake-prone with 10 interceptions in 191 pass attempts this season. Russo has been intercepted at least once in every game he has started but he also has eight passing touchdowns in his last three games while throwing for nearly 800 yards in those three conference wins.

Both teams had close calls in the last games played on October 20. Temple saw a 10-0 lead disappear hosting Cincinnati and trailed 17-10 most of the second half before tying the game in the final minute and winning in overtime. UCF’s 37-10 win over East Carolina was closer than it looked. Playing without Milton UCF led 23-10 through three quarters and caught a few big breaks late as East Carolina fumbled on the goal line with the ball returned for a touchdown the other way turning a potential one-score game into a 20-point lead. The Knights were actually out-gained 496-427 but had a 5-0 turnover advantage and still wound up narrowly covering as a heavy road favorite.

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Last Season: After a 3-5 start to the season Temple won back-to-back games to start November before playing as a double-digit home underdog against undefeated UCF. Temple led 10-7 in the second quarter before UCF rattled off 24 straight points before halftime and eventually won 45-19. Temple actually had a 397-384 yardage edge in the game but had a 5-0 turnover deficit. That win moved the Knights to 10-0 before they turned in three straight seven-point wins over South Florida, Memphis, and Auburn to complete the perfect season.

Historical Trends: These schools have met each of the last five years with UCF going 3-2 S/U and ATS. Temple won the last meeting in Orlando with a 26-25 win in 2016 as a slight underdog. Temple is 28-14 ATS since 2007 as a road underdog including going 2-0 ATS this season and 8-3 ATS since 2015. UCF is 30-18 ATS as a home favorite since 2010, including going 22-13 ATS as a double-digit home favorite, with a 3-1 ATS mark in that role this season.

 

 

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Thursday NCAA Preview: Tulsa vs. Temple

Thursday Night College Football – Tulsa at Temple

This week’s Thursday night ESPN game comes out of the American Athletic Conference with a pair of 1-2 squads facing off in what will be a key win towards bowl eligibility for the victor. Tulsa and Temple haven’t had the September starts they envisioned but both still have a shot at a successful season. Here is a look at this week’s Thursday night game to kick off the fourth big weekend of college football.

Match-up: Tulsa Golden Hurricane at Temple Owls

Venue: At Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Time/TV: Thursday, Sep. 20, 7:30 PM ET ESPN

Line: Temple -7½, Over/Under 55½

Last Meeting: 2017, Temple (-5½) 43, at Tulsa 22

After winning the AAC title in 2016 Temple lost head coach Matt Rhule to Baylor and hired Geoff Collins, who had been the defensive coordinator at Florida the previous two years. Last season the Owls slipped from the back-to-back 10-4 seasons they had in 2015 and 2016 but still managed a 7-6 season. Temple beat Tulsa on the road in the regular season finale to reach 6-6 before beating Florida International in the Gasparilla Bowl, all things considered a fairly successful first season with the coaching transition plus the loss of longtime quarterback Phillip Walker, a four-year starter that is the all-time passing leader for the Owls.

There were some important players that graduated for Temple last season, notably in the receiving corps but expectations were elevated with the Owls considered by many the favorite in the AAC East. The offense gained a spark when Frank Nutile took over at quarterback last season and the top rushers from last season returned along with several key starters on a defense that has been very effective in recent years.

Temple opened the season with a pair of home games and lost both games, falling 19-17 (-14½) to FCS Villanova and 36-29 (-4) to Buffalo. On its own neither loss was egregious as Villanova gave Temple a great battle early last season and is one of the better FCS programs. Buffalo meanwhile is considered one of the top MAC teams is off to a promising 3-0 start as it could be a more reasonable loss by season’s end.

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Nutile struggled with four interceptions before being injured late in the Buffalo game. He may be healthy enough to return in the near future but he may not get his job back at Temple was rejuvenated last week under sophomore Anthony Russo who played well in the team’s 35-14 (+16) upset win at Maryland. The Owls took a 21-7 lead at halftime even with Russo throwing a pick-6 the other way. Early in the second half Russo hit a 47-yard touchdown pass and the Owls even survived a blocked punt returned for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to hold on for a 21-point win. Temple’s defense allowed just 195 yards and no offensive touchdowns as the Owls can feel confident heading into the conference season.

Tulsa has had a roller coaster run in now four seasons under Philip Montgomery, who was hired in 2015 after leading the Baylor offense under Art Briles. He inherited a 2-10 team and went bowling in year one, nearly upsetting Virginia Tech in the Independence Bowl to finish 6-7. In 2016 the Hurricane delivered a 10-3 campaign with a dominant bowl win. Last season everything went wrong as Tulsa inversed its record to just 2-10. A closer looks reveals a lot of narrow losses but also a major decline statistically on both sides of the ball.

Tulsa has decent returning experience and was universally projected for a season of improvement this season. How much Tulsa can improve remains to be seen. After being tested but winning 38-27 (-13) against FCS Central Arkansas in the opener, the Hurricane delivered a valiant comeback bid at Texas, losing by seven 28-21 (+21) despite falling behind 21-0 at halftime. Last week Tulsa had a big measuring stick game against Sun Belt power Arkansas State and came up short with a 29-20 (-1½) loss at home. Three turnovers were a factor as an interception return touchdown in the third quarter was a big blow ahead of Tulsa climbing back within seven points in the fourth quarter.

Luke Skipper was erratic as a freshman last season, starting six games including the upset win over Houston. He has been more accurate so far this season and already has more touchdown passes but he also has three interceptions after throwing only four in 127 attempts last season. His yards per attempt average is also down to 6.9 compared to 9.0 last season. Facing quality competition has been a factor and the challenge will be great this week with Temple featuring a reputation as a strong pass defense in recent years. Shamari Brooks leads Tulsa with 310 yards rushing so far this season as the Hurricane keep the ball on the ground almost twice as often as they throw.

The Tulsa defense has looked capable after allowing 37.5 points per game last season no foe has reached 30 against the Hurricane this season. Now 1-2 Tulsa is at a critical juncture in the season with three of the next four games on the road and the lone home game a difficult October game with South Florida. Tulsa isn’t likely to be favored in any of the next four games as bowl hopes could be extinguished without an upset along the way.

Skipper didn’t play in last season’s game as Tulsa saw a 7-0 lead a few minutes into the game disappear. Temple led 31-13 at the half and sealed the game with a punt return touchdown late in the third quarter in a 43-22 win. Temple had a 451-369 edge in yards with three Tulsa turnovers. Tulsa did rush for 5.8 yards per carry and 318 yards against a Temple defense that had good season numbers against the run as only Notre Dame ran for more yards against the Owls last season. Behind Chad President and Will Hefley Tulsa completed only six passes in the game while having two interceptions however. Nutile was sharp with one of his best games completing 20 of 28 passes with three touchdowns.

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Up next Temple has another opportunity vs. a major conference team visiting Boston College and the Owls have a very tricky AAC road schedule this season playing at Navy, at UCF, and at Houston as it will be critical to take care of business at home. With a limited margin for error the rest of the way after 1-2 starts for both programs, this game could feel like a postseason elimination game already in September.

Historical Trends: Temple has won the two recent meetings between these teams with wins in 2014 and 2017. Tulsa won both meetings in 1987 and 1988 for a split in four games both S/U and ATS. Tulsa is only 6-13 S/U on the road under Montgomery since 2015 but 14-5 ATS including 12-3 ATS as a road underdog and 5-1 ATS as an underdog of fewer than 10 points. With a pair of losses already this season Temple is just 3-5 S/U and 2-6 ATS at home under Collins since 2017 though going back to 2014 Temple is 17-10 S/U and 16-11 ATS in home games. Temple has failed to cover in five games in a row as a home favorite and is just 6-9-1 ATS as a single-digit home favorite going all the way back to 1998.

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Free NCAA Pick Sunday

#856 Temple +3 over Houston 3:00 PM CT

Houston delivered a huge win over Cincinnati on Thursday night and that result could take a toll into a tricky road game Sunday afternoon. The Cougars haven’t played on the road since February 3 and that was a very narrow escape at UCF. Houston lost the previous two road games in AAC play and are only 5-4 S/U on the road for the season with the four-point win at UCF the only top 100 caliber result.

In January Houston beat Temple by three at home in a comeback result. The Owls were in the midst of a five-game slide and have played much better ball of late. Temple lost on Thursday at Wichita State despite playing a very good game and being right there to the end. The Owls have a home win over the Shockers and the overall schedule for Temple has been among the toughest slates in the nation, contributing to the inconsistent results.

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Temple has seven top 100 wins on the season including three top 20 wins while Houston has three losses away from home against teams outside of the nation’s top 50. After the biggest win of the season a letdown on the road is possible against a Temple team that has played the AAC’s toughest slate.

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Free NCAA Pick Sunday

#828 Tulane +2.5 over Temple 2:00 PM CT

The AAC is proving to be a high quality conference this season rating just behind the Big Ten and Pac-12 at this point in the season. Long-time NBA head coach Mike Dunleavy has made some positive strides in his second season with Tulane following a 6-win campaign a year ago. At 13-8 the season has already been a success and home wins over SMU and Houston have been very impressive in American play.

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Tulane beat Temple by 10 on the road in late December as well but the Wave have also delivered erratic performances with home losses to Connecticut and South Florida and barely escaping with an overtime win at East Carolina earlier this week. Tulane led nearly wire-to-wire in the first meeting using a strong inside scoring game to offset ugly 3-point shooting on both sides. Tulane had a big edge in defensive rebounds and had fewer turnovers.

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The 12-10 Owls have an interesting profile as early season wins over Clemson and Auburn are now top 20 caliber victories while Temple enters this game off a huge Thursday overtime win against AAC favorite Wichita State. The Owls have won five of the last seven to shake off a five-game slide from late December and early January. This is a terrible shooting team everywhere on the floor and the road results have been shaky with a 2-6 S/U record on the season in road tests. One of the wins came by two points at SMU for an impressive result but narrowly winning at Penn was the other road victory.

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Temple also has multiple home losses to teams that are outside the nation’s top 100 including the defeat against Tulane. Ultimately this looks like a spot to fade the Owls coming off marquee home wins over Connecticut and Wichita State even in a revenge spot. The Wave should find more success on offense in this matchup as one of the most efficient scoring teams in the conference and the edge for Temple on defense isn’t as significant as one might expect.

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Thursday NCAA Navy at Temple

Thursday Night College Football – Navy at Temple

The past two Thursday night ESPN games have featured dramatic finishes with comeback wins for Memphis and Stanford. This week’s game is a rematch of the AAC Championship from last season as Navy visits Temple. While both teams might fail to match last season’s success, this is a pivotal game in the season goals on both sides.

Match-up: Navy Midshipmen at Temple Owls

Venue: At Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Time/TV: Thursday, Nov. 2, 8:00 PM ET ESPN

Line: Navy -8, Over/Under 55

Last Meeting: 2016, Temple (+2½) 34, at Navy 10 (AAC Championship Game)

Temple has been to the American Athletics Conference championship game the past two seasons and last year the Owls beat Navy 34-10 in a minor upset to claim the title. That made it a second consecutive 10-win season for Temple. After a nice climb in four years Matt Rhule left to take the Baylor head coaching job, a move he may now regret with Baylor’s scandal continuing to grow and the Bears still winless as the calendar is set to turn to November.

Geoff Collins was selected as Temple’s fourth head coach since 2010 with a defensive background from the SEC, leading successful defenses at Mississippi State and Florida. A clear transition season was expected for the Owls with only a handful or returning starters while needing to replace long-time starting quarterback Phillip Walker, top rusher Jahad Thomas, and five of the team’s top six leading tacklers from last season.

At 3-5 Temple already has more losses than in either of the past two seasons and a bowl bid looks fairly unlikely as the team still has to play AAC leader UCF in November plus two road games remain in the final month. An upset this week could change that equation however but this season’s wins have come against FCS Villanova, Massachusetts, and East Carolina. The past three losses for Temple have all been single-score games however and Temple is 3-1 ATS in the past four games.

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Logan Marchi started the first seven games at quarterback for Temple but he has been injured and is not expected to be available this week. Frank Nutile is much bigger than Marchi and he was effective in his first start against Army, completing 20-29 passes for 290 yards and avoiding interceptions. It isn’t clear if Marchi could return later this season or if Nutile will start the rest of the way but so far he has posted better numbers, albeit through just two games against marginal competition.

Ryquell Armstead is a contributing holdover from last season’s championship squad but the junior running back isn’t likely to match his results from last season, with just 428 yards through eight games. He had his best game of the season against Army with 151 yards on 18 carries and he’ll need another big day to keep pace with Navy’s rushing attack.

The biggest difference for Temple has come on defense this season, allowing 26.9 points per game, or nearly nine more points per game compared with last season. The Owls have surrendered 105 more yards per game as well with a particular decline against the run allowing 4.6 yards per carry after allowing only 3.6 yards per rush last season.

The run defense for the Owls draws a Navy offense posting 5.9 yards per rush on 376 yards per game for the nation’s most prolific rushing attack. A possible advantage in the schedule is that Temple faced Army in its last game, now drawing a similar option attack out of the bye week. Army beat Temple 31-28 in overtime but the Owls did a respectable job defensively, holding Army to just 248 rushing yards on 50 carries. Temple lost despite a 506-389 yardage edge and no turnovers for difficult setback.

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Navy oddly plays opposite Temple in the AAC West division despite geography that sets these campuses just 130 miles apart. Navy moved to the AAC ahead of the 2015 season and went 7-1 and 7-1 the first two regular seasons as a member. Navy has already matched that combined loss count in the first five conference games this season at 3-2.  Navy has already lost to West leader Memphis as they will be a long shot to return to the title game, effectively two games back of the Tigers with a remaining schedule for Memphis that looks favorable.

The Midshipmen have five fairly difficult games remaining as they still have road games at Notre Dame and Houston and home dates with SMU and rival Army as a run of five straight seasons with at least eight-wins will be put to the test for Ken Niumatalolo in his 10th season leading the program. One more win will seal up a sixth consecutive bowl berth for Navy, who has won three of its last four bowl games with a 4-0 ATS run.

Quarterback Zach Abey is one of the nation’s leading rushers with 1,142 yards gaining 5.5 yards per attempt. Senior Chris High has been the workhorse for the offense but sophomore Malcolm Perry has been a big play threat with 11.1 yards per carry so far this season. Navy has only completed 22 passes this season at a 35 percent clip and when Navy throws it has been a high risk, high reward, situation with six touchdowns and six interceptions.

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Navy actually returned eight defensive starters from last season and there has been modest improvement in the numbers compared with last season. The schedule will stiffen in November as the unit will likely end up with similar numbers once they get through facing SMU and Notre Dame. The Midshipmen did have respectable showings in the recent losses holding Memphis to 30 and UCF to 31 in close games against two of the nation’s top scoring offenses. Navy is 5-2 ATS this season as they narrowly covered on the closing line in both recent losses.

Last Season: Navy was a threat to be the top Group of Five squad last season heading into the AAC title game as they were 9-2 with wins over Houston and Notre Dame, with Houston ranked #6 when they delivered the home upset. A Cotton Bowl spot was in play, even though Navy was still going to play the Army/Navy game the following week, a game the Midshipmen eventually lost. As a slight underdog known for defense the Temple offense made early noise, delivering touchdown drives on the first three possessions for a commanding 21-0 edge in the second quarter. Navy eventually closed to within 24-10 late in the third quarter but the Owls took advantage of Navy mistakes on offense for a 34-10 win in Annapolis. Temple had a 388-306 yardage edge and a 3-0 turnover edge and impressively held Navy to just 168 rushing yards on just 3.8 yards per attempt.

Historical Trends: The long term track record for Navy in road games is outstanding with a 75-38-1 ATS run going back to 1994. Under Niumatalolo Navy is 28-23 S/U and 31-19-1 ATS in road games to keep up a strong pace, including covering in all three road games this season. Navy is just 11-9-1 ATS as a road favorite in that run since 2008 however, though 6-1-1 ATS since 2015. Temple is 17-12 S/U and 18-11 ATS at home since 2013. Since 2006 Temple in on a 22-8 ATS run as a home underdog including covering in 10 of the last 12 instances including in all five attempts since 2015 with three S/U wins. Temple is 7-2 ATS in this series since 2000 though Navy has won S/U in five of the last seven meetings including the last three meetings in Philadelphia.

Don’t miss Bobby Dalton’s pick on this ESPN game tonight – just $12!

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Thursday Night College Football

Thursday Night College Football – Temple at South Florida

The American Athletic Conference is looking to close the gap with the power five schools and Thursday’s showcase game features two of last season’s top contenders in the conference. Both teams have undergone some changes but have paths to success this season with the victor emerging in the driver’s seat for the division title race. Here is a preview of the Thursday night matchup between Temple and South Florida.

Match-up: Temple Owls at South Florida Bulls

Venue: At Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida

Time/TV: Thursday, Sep. 21, 7:30 PM ET ESPN

Line: South Florida -19, Over/Under 63

Last Meeting: 2016, at Temple (+5½) 46, South Florida 30

Temple’s regular season win over South Florida last October decided the AAC East title as both squads went on to finish 7-1 in conference play. Temple went on to defeat Navy in the conference title game last season before losing to Wake Forest in a competitive Military Bowl. For a second straight season Temple entered its bowl game ranked in the AP Top 25 but with a loss wound up left out of the final season rankings in matching 10-4 seasons.

South Florida wound up making a fourth straight season with a big jump in record in 2016, going from 2-10, to 4-8, to 8-5, to 11-2 last season. That four-year rise landed Willie Taggert the Oregon head coaching job as both of these programs are going through coaching transitions in 2017. South Florida’s only other loss last season came hosting Florida State and the Bulls capped off the season with a win over South Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl.

South Florida is still considered one of the top threats to land a New Year’s Day bowl bid as the top ‘Group of Five’ school by season’s end and the Bulls have a very realistic shot to go undefeated as they will likely be favored in every regular season game. The Bulls also will now only play an 11-game regular season schedule after losing a conference road game with Connecticut to Hurricane Irma, though the program hopes to take part in the AAC Championship game for the first time in early December.

Charlie Strong did not meet expectations in three seasons at Texas but he owns a 56-37 career record as a head coach and is in position to restore his career inheriting a talented and experienced South Florida roster from a team that wound up 11-2 last season with a record that included beating schools from the ACC and SEC. The Bulls got a scare in August as a squad many pegged to go undefeated found itself down 16-0 after the first quarter playing across the country for an early opener at San Jose State. South Florida rallied for a 20-point victory and now sits at 3-0 after an impressive 47-23 win hosting Illinois last Friday.

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Senior quarterback Quinton Flowers is on pace for another strong statistical season with 678 passing yards and 243 rushing yards in three games, accounting for 10 touchdowns but the passing game has been less efficient with only a 55 percent completion rate and two interceptions, after he threw just seven picks in 331 attempts last season. Flowers led the team is rushing last season with over 1,600 yards on 7.7 yards per carry but his average is at almost half that rate this season as senior Darius Tice has passed up the quarterback as the top rushing option so far this season, splitting time with senior D’Ernest Johnson in the backfield.

Against a fairly marginal three-game set the Bulls have offered some cause for concern defensively. The current 21 points allowed per game average would best last season’s average by far but with nine returning starters and many of the tougher matchups still ahead on the schedule expectations were slightly higher.

With a veteran quarterback Temple’s 10-win 2016 season featured the best offensive production for the program in some time, but it was still lower scoring group that averaged just over 32 points per game and 414 yards per game. Temple has barely averaged 20 points per game so far in a 2-1 start to the season and they are looking at facing perhaps the two best teams in the AAC the next two weeks to close out September.

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The Owls lost head coach Matt Rhule to Baylor after a successful four-year rise in Philadelphia going from 2-10 in 2013 to back-to-back 10-4 seasons the past two years with division titles, including winning the AAC championship last season. A bowl win eluded the program in that run and the Owls figure to be a borderline bowl candidate in a rebuilding 2017 season under first year head coach Geoff Collins. Spending the past six seasons as a SEC defensive coordinator at Mississippi State and Florida Collins has good credentials but the staff is mostly new to the program with offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude coming from Coastal Carolina and defensive coordinator Taver Johnson spending the last three years at Purdue.

The Owls lost long-time quarterback Phillip Walker and also last season’s leading rusher while the defense lost many of the top players from a unit that allowed just over 18 points per game and 283 yards per game last season. Notre Dame was a tough matchup but against a FCS foe and a Massachusetts team that has been consistently among the worst FBS squads in recent years Temple has already allowed 489 yards per game in the 2-1 start.

The offense has offered some promise with Logan Marchi earning the starting quarterback spot as a sophomore. He has thrown five touchdown passes with no interceptions and is on pace to best Walker’s 2016 numbers. The running game has struggled with Temple gaining just 2.9 yards per rush this season as junior Ryquell Armstead has not come close to matching the 5.9 yards per carry average he had last season. Temple has found a way to win two close games however and the 49-16 defeat against Notre Dame in the opening week was somewhat misleading with the Irish adding 14 points in the final six minutes.

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Temple is 13-2 S/U at home since 2015 but now just 9-7 in road and neutral site games in that span and if the Owls find a way to win this week it would be the program’s biggest upset, at least by the pointspread, since the colossal 28-24 win over Virginia Tech in 1998, playing as a more than five-touchdown underdog against an undefeated #14 ranked squad.

For South Florida this is a revenge game and an important division game for a program looking for its first conference championship since making the leap to the now FBS level in 2001. The toughest tests for South Florida figure to be in the final three games of the regular season facing Houston, Tulsa, and UCF but the Bulls can’t afford a misstep especially with the league slate shortened for several AAC teams. Temple has won this division in both years of its existence and the Owls aren’t likely to surrender that top spot without a strong challenge this week.

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Last Season: South Florida had dominated Temple in the 2015 meeting in Temple winning 44-23 as an underdog but Temple returned the favor in Philadelphia last October with a 46-30 result and the statistics were even more lopsided with Temple posting a 528-352 edge in production. South Florida led 23-20 late in the third quarter but the Owls outscored the Bulls 26-7 the rest of the way, posting 319 rushing yards on 6.3 yards per carry. Quinton Flowers had a strong statistical game accounting for three touchdowns for South Florida but the Owls current top rusher Ryquell Armstead had a career day with 210 rushing yards including breaking a 76-yard run.

Historical Trends: This is the fourth meeting between these schools with the teams splitting the past two seasons and Temple winning a 2012 meeting at home. South Florida hit a lousy home favorite run in disappointing seasons from 2010 to 2012 but since 2014 South Florida is 9-3 ATS as a home favorite without ever being upset outright. The Bulls are just 2-5 ATS in the last seven instances as a double-digit favorite though they had covered in seven in a row prior to that run starting in 2015. South Florida is just 23-32-3 ATS at home since 2008 but that trend has turned around the past three years with South Florida 9-25-2 ATS from 2008 to 2013 but 14-7-1 ATS since 2014. Temple has been a strong road underdog in the past decade with a 25-13 ATS mark since 2007 that included going 4-0 ATS last season. Temple is 16-5 ATS as a double-digit underdog since 2007, though they missed as a +20 underdog at Notre Dame earlier this season.