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American Athletic Conference Championship Game Preview and Prediction: Temple vs. Navy

Ken Niumatalolo

Ken Niumatalolo

For the first time in its storied program history, Navy will play for a conference championship in football. In just its second season in the American Athletic Conference, Navy makes its debut in the AAC Championship Game and will serve as host against the Temple Owls. Temple is no stranger to this championship game setting after playing in Houston for last year’s conference title game. Will the experience of last year pay off for the Owls this time around, or will the Midshipmen’s offensive machine continue to take a toll on opponents in one last push for consideration for a spot in the New Year’s Six?

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Temple at Navy

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 3 at 12 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ABC

Spread: Navy -3

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Three Things to Watch

1. The QB Matchup
Navy senior Will Worth has been riding quite the hot streak running the Midshipmen’s signature option offense. Worth has scored 19 touchdowns on the ground since Oct. 22 while rushing for no fewer than 122 yards in a game in that span. He will continue to be the main weapon for Navy’s offense, which ranks first in the AAC by a landslide in rushing. Worth is a big part of that and enters the conference title game as the AAC’s fourth-leading rusher with 1,181 yards and leads the way with 25 touchdowns.

Temple’s Phillip Walker will throw the ball more and can still be kind of streaky at times with his arm. Walker finished the regular season with 18 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions. Walker is not a threat to run, but his decision-making when he throws will have to be smart.

2. Can Temple’s AAC-leading defense slow down Navy’s ground game?
The typical formula for defeating an option-based team like Navy is to not let the running game take a toll on you. That starts with finding ways to get off the field on third down. This has been a strength for the Midshipmen, who lead the AAC in third down conversions (57.04 percent), but Temple is among the best in the conference in getting off the field. The Owls’ defense has held opponents to a conversion rate of just 33.14 percent on third down. Only UCF is better in the conference and that puts Temple among the top 15 teams in the nation. If the Owls can avoid letting Navy’s offense pick up solid gains on first down, they stand a chance to slow the Middies down, but can they sustain that into the second half?

3. Temple’s running duo
Senior Jahad Thomas finished tied for seventh in the AAC in rushing with an average of 85.6 yards per game. In 10 games this season, Thomas has rushed for 856 yards and 12 touchdowns. He is joined by sophomore Ryquell Armstead to form a solid 1-2 punch out of the backfield. Armstead has 842 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns to this point of the season. Look for the Owls to mix things up between these two running options.

Final Analysis

The AAC has a pretty darn good matchup to get championship Saturday kicked off. The Midshipmen have been on a tear and are making as strong a case as possible to be considered for the Group of Five’s reserved spot in the New Year’s Six bowls. With Western Michigan in action on Friday night, we’ll have a better sense of whether or not Navy or Temple can crash the party. Navy is going to be tough to beat, even for a solid Temple defense, and the Midshipmen get this one at home. Look for Navy to grind its way to its first conference championship.

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Prediction: Navy 27, Temple 24

— 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 contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook