For the first time in its brief history, the American Athletic Conference (AAC) will hold its first conference championship game, and Houston will get to serve as host. The champions of the AAC's West Division, under the first-year guidance of head coach Tom Herman, earned the right to host the championship game following an 11-1 season that included victories over Louisville, Memphis and Navy.
Their opponent will be a Templeprogram looking to reach the next step after winning its first division championship following a 10-2 season. It's going to be Houston's offense against Temple's defense with the conference's championship and a spot in the New Year's Six on the line.
College Football Podcast: Championship Week Preview
Houston at Temple
Kickoff: 12 p.m. ET (Saturday)
Spread: Houston -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Two coaches on the rise looking to stay put?
There is no question the American Athletic Conference is ripe with good coaches, many of which are on the rise. Memphis has already lost Justin Fuente to Virginia Tech, but it looks as though both Houston and Temple may survive this cycle of the coaching carousel and keep their head guys in place for at least one more season. Houston's first-year head coach, Tom Herman, has had quite a successful debut season in charge of his own program and Houston is looking to make him happy with a nice new contract as a result. Temple also is looking for ways to keep Matt Rhule more interested in sticking around Philadelphia instead of following in the footsteps of Al Golden and Steve Addazio and pursue Power 5 conference opportunities.
2. Greg Ward Jr. vs. Tyler Matakevich
Two of the best players in the conference will be on the field at the same time with Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. leading the Cougars' offense and linebacker Tyler Matakevich manning the Owls' defense. Mobile quarterbacks have been a problem at times for Temple this season. Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer broke some big runs against the Owls earlier this season, but Matakevich and the Owls can find ways to limit the impact of a dual-threat quarterback. Look to see which of these two can gain the advantage if Ward takes off with his feet.
3. Can Temple's offense keep pace with Houston?
While Temple may have the better defense when the Owls take the field, Houston's offense still looks to have the upper hand while playing at home. Temple's offense will be put to the test of trying to answer Houston's scoring opportunities and find a way to keep pace with the home team when needed. Having Jahad Thomas pound the ball on the ground will be Temple's best bet to control the tempo of the game, as well as keeping Houston's quick-strike offense off the field.
This certainly is not the Temple of old, but these Owls may still be a bit shy of having what it takes to claim the conference crown on the road. Temple showed some cracks on defense coming down the stretch against SMU and South Florida (the Bulls handed Temple its only loss in conference play this season), and Houston has all of the weapons needed to open those cracks, and could do so quickly. Look for Houston to try and get off to a quick start and put Temple down a couple of scores as soon as possible. Temple will tighten up on defense, but the damage may already be done by the time the Owls do.
Prediction: Houston 26, Temple 20
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also writes for CollegeFootballTalk.com and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.