In August, if I were to tell you that Temple and Toledo would win 10 games each during the regular season but neither would have a conference championship ring entering bowl festivities, you might have rolled your eyes in disbelief.
But it happened, and now the two teams are meeting up in the Marmot Boca Raton Bowl.
Including dominating wins over Penn State, Cincinnati and Memphis, Temple achieved the 10-win mark for the first time since 1979 during the regular season and fell to Houston in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game. The Owls, who nearly knocked off Notre Dame at home on Halloween night after hosting ESPN's "College GameDay," are a tough matchup for any opponent.
Toledo enjoyed a 7-0 start to the 2015 season – including a road win at SEC foe Arkansas – and climbed as high as No. 19 in the AP poll. However, losing two of its last four kept it from the MAC title game, and now the Rockets enter the postseason without their head coach. Matt Campbell left for the Iowa State vacancy and usually a change in leadership (offensive coordinator Jason Candle was named Campbell's replacement) usually sparks some level of adversity.
At one point, both teams were hoping to appear in a New Year’s Six bowl, but the Marmot Boca Raton Bowl is a solid consolation prize as they get to square off against one more quality opponent to end the year.
Temple vs. Toledo (Boca Raton, Fla.)
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Tuesday)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Temple -1
Three Things to Watch
1. Temple’s stout defensive front
Between the Bronco Nagurski award winner in linebacker Tyler Matakevich and all-league linemen Nate D. Smith, Matt Ioannidis, and Haason Reddick, Temple’s defensive front has been exceptional all season long and are the foundation to the team's success. Opponents have struggled to run the ball on the Owls in 2015, who rank 21st nationally in that category (126.2 yards per game) and are fifth with an insane 101 tackles for a loss. With Kareem Hunt and a handful of durable supplemental backs, Toledo averages 41.7 carries per contest – but early struggles could cut that number significantly.
2. Toledo’s endless number of offensive skill players
With balance in the backfield, a consistent quarterback and limitless passing options, Toledo’s offense has been difficult to stop this season. Three different running backs — Hunt, Terry Swanson and Damion Jones-Moore — have scored at least five touchdowns. Seven different players have double-digit receptions, with Cody Thompson, Alonzo Russell and Corey Jones all contributing 535 yards or more. And with an offensive line that has allowed four sacks all year (2nd in FBS), the Rockets have soared to 35.3 points per game (26th).
3. Level of motivation
Toledo didn’t even get the chance to play for a conference championship game after losing to Western Michigan in its regular season finale. Losing head coach Matt Campbell might not have a long-term effect on the program’s status as a top-tier member of the MAC, but it could prove to be a distraction for a team already feeling a little low. Meanwhile, Temple seems to treat every game like it’s the national title game, and a victory here would give the program its first 11-win campaign ever, and just its second bowl win since 1979.
Temple and Toledo have similar strength of schedules and have seen plenty of bowl-worthy competition to this date, but it’s the Owls that enter the game more battle-tested, having played three ranked opponents in their last six games (compared to zero for the Rockets). An aggressive defense full of talent and experience should be able to keep Toledo’s backfield in check for most of the day, and dual-threat quarterback P.J. Walker can stick to routine with effective management under center as Temple notches 11 wins for the first time in program history.
Prediction: Temple 27, Toledo 16
— Written by Tyler Waddell, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Waddell’s work has previously been published by Bleacher Report, the Los Angeles Times, NOLA.com, Today's U, and other outlets. Follow him on Twitter: @Tyler_Waddell.
(Tyler Matakevich photo courtesy of Joseph V. Labolito/Temple University)