Thursday Night College Football – Temple at UCF
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.