A year removed from winning the American Athletic Conference (AAC) championship, the 2017 Temple Owls are a much different program. Rookie head coach Geoff Collins has gone through some growing pains with a Temple (4-5, 2-3 AAC) program that came into the season looking to replace some key players from the championship team of a year ago, and it may have just come together as a team last week against Navy just in time to make a push for a potential bowl trip.
After putting all of the pieces together last week to pull a one-sided upset against Navy, Temple is on the road in AAC play this week against Cincinnati. Things have not gone smoothly for the Bearcats (3-6, 1-4) this season. A five-game losing streak was just barely snapped last week courtesy of a missed Tulane field goal. With three games to play, Luke Fickell and his Bearcats need to go 3-0 to become eligible for a bowl game. Temple could potentially deal Cincinnati's bowl hopes a knockout blow.
Temple at Cincinnati
Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Temple -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Frank Nutile giving Temple offense a spark
The junior quarterback from New Jersey certainly rose to the occasion last week in Temple's big win over Navy. In his second start of the year for the Owls, Nutile looked comfortable directing the offense on his way to a four-touchdown performance with 289 passing yards. This will be his third start for the Owls, and he appears to have found a comfort level running the offense in very little time.
2. Lack of pressure from Cincinnati defense
Coming into this game, Cincinnati will have the AAC's lowest sack total for the season with just nine. That's just three more than Temple's Jacob Martin and Quincy Roche have entering the game. Temple has thrived bringing down the quarterback with 27 sacks this season, but the Bearcats struggle to create pressure in the backfield. Despite the lack of sacks, Cincinnati does have the conference's second-best pass defense by allowing just 208.0 yards per game through the air. But the Bearcats also have the fewest interceptions, three.
3. Red zone struggles for each
One key area of concern that has been an issue all season long for both Cincinnati and Temple is what happens to the offense once it reaches the red zone. Neither have been experiencing much success inside their opponents' 20-yard line. Cincinnati ranks 12th in the 12-team AAC in red zone scoring percentage, and Temple is 10th. Temple owns the conference's worst red zone touchdown percentage with 30 red zone trips resulting in just 14 touchdowns. Cincinnati is 11th with 18 touchdowns on 36 trips.
Temple played by far its best game of the season last week against Navy, and now the challenge is to keep that level of play going as the Owls hit the road this week against a team fighting for bowl eligibility. Cincinnati has had a lot of problems this season, and Temple could potentially manage to take advantage of that this week if the offense plays as confidently as it did against Navy. The road has not been kind to the Owls this season though, so this will be a good test for a team that may have just found itself last week.
Prediction: Temple 23, Cincinnati 17
— 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.
(Top photo courtesy of @Temple_FB)