It's been a trying start to the 2017 season for both the UMass Minutemen and Temple Owls.
For UMass, the struggling program has never really left the tarmac since leaving FCS play. Since 2012, when the Minutemen joined the FBS, they have won only nine games. Head coach Mark Whipple, who led the program to a I-AA championship in 1998, has not been able to rekindle the same magic, and losses to Hawaii, Coastal Carolina and Old Dominion the first three weeks of this season have set the program back to the point where his job is in serious jeopardy.
Temple had a strong 2016, but in the wake of head coach Matt Rhule's departure to take the Baylor job, his replacement, Geoff Collins, has not been able to sustain that success to this point. The Owls were blown out by Notre Dame in Week 1 and barely slipped by FCS member Villanova this past weekend.
In other words, both teams could desperately use a win, and even though neither has looked particularly strong so far, there is hope on each side to get that done.
UMass at Temple
Kickoff: Friday, Sept. 15 at 7 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPNU
Spread: Temple -14.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Weapons check
If the Minutemen want any shot at pulling the upset here, they will have to get contributions from their top pass-catchers: wide receiver Andy Isabella and tight end Adam Breneman. In an otherwise dreary season, both players have provided some glimmers of hope. The speedy Isabella caught a 60-yard touchdown pass against Old Dominion and has caught 16 passes for 246 yards (15.4 yards per reception) and three touchdowns for the season. Breneman suffered an ankle injury against Coastal Carolina and was held to three catches for 18 yards against Old Dominion. Provided he is a little healthier, Breneman, who has caught 21 passes for 323 yards but no touchdowns, could provide the complement to Isabella that quarterback Andrew Ford needs.
2. Delvon on the defensive
An intriguing player to watch on the defensive side of the ball for the Owls is junior safety Delvon Randall. After he was awarded with a single-digit number in the offseason in a move that the program uses to highlight the nine toughest players on the team, Randall has backed up that honor with his play so far this fall. He leads the team with 19 tackles, is second on the team with two tackles for a loss, and is tied for the team lead with one sack. Overall, the Temple defense still needs to find more consistency, as Villanova moved the ball through the air a little too easily with 382 passing yards last weekend. But Randall can make an impact and start to move things in the right direction with his leadership in the back end.
3. On the mend
The two players for Temple who can make the biggest impact on the Owls' offensive progress are quarterback Logan Marchi and running back Ryquell Armstead. Although Marchi has started both games, he has battled an ankle injury and has not been as much of a factor in the running game as the Owls had hoped. This week, Marchi has said he is feeling a little better, so look for that element to return to his game against UMass. Armstead had high hopes coming into the season but was banged up in the loss to Notre Dame and limited to 19 yards on 12 carries against Villanova. He, too, has said that his health has improved, so if the Owls can get some production out of Armstead, then they stand a better chance of moving the ball on the Minutemen.
So far, the results for both of these teams has been disappointing, but Temple's struggles have been on a much smaller scale than those of UMass. The Minutemen simply have very few positives, as they squandered a near certain win in the final moments against Hawaii and didn't show much reason for optimism against either Coastal Carolina or Old Dominion. Temple has the edge in talent, and, at least by some measure, morale, as the state of affairs at UMass is as bleak as it has ever been since the program made the jump to FBS. Logan Marchi and Ryquell Armstead should have big games, and the defense should do just enough to hold down a UMass offense that has been inconsistent against inferior opponents. Look for the Owls to get their second win and Minutemen head coach Mark Whipple's seat to get even hotter.
Prediction: Temple 34, UMass 20
— Written by Adam Kurkjian, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and is a reporter for the Boston Herald. He has covered the World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup playoffs, Boston Marathon and Little League World Series, among other events from the high school, college and pro ranks. Follow him on Twitter @AdamKurkjian.
(Adam Breneman photo courtesy of @AdamBreneman81; Ryquell Armstead photo courtesy of www.owlsports.com)