No. 14 UCF faces Temple ahead of AAC showdown
By RALPH D. RUSSO
No. 14 Central Florida is getting talked about a lot these days.
Where are the Knights ranked? Should they be ranked higher? Are they a lock to play in a major bowl if they win the American Athletic Conference? Can they go undefeated? If UCF does go undefeated, should they be considered for the College Football Playoff? How about coach Scott Frost? Is he going to Nebraska? Or maybe Florida? And, oh man, that game against No. 23 South Florida the day after Thanksgiving, with a spot in the AAC title game on the line. Won't that be epic?
So much to talk about, and none of it has to do Temple, UCF's opponent on Saturday.
"There is a lot of distractions and you have to be able to ignore all of them," Frost said. '"Star Wars' is coming out in December. There are things that are happening all over that can get our guys' attention. Our guys are fighting it by showing up and going to work. Right now we have an environment where everybody loves being in the building, they love practicing. That's rare but I see it every day with the way we start practice and the energy in practice that guys are having fun. You get a lot done when you have that attitude."
This weekend in Philadelphia, UCF (9-0, 6-0) faces Temple (5-5, 3-3) in a game that has no bearing on the conference championship race. The AAC East will be decided next Friday in Orlando when UCF plays rival USF (8-1, 6-1). The Bulls set up the winner-take-all game by beating Tulsa on Thursday night.
For UCF, it comes down to this: Beat the Bulls and win the conference title game at home the following week and the Knights would be a virtual lock to play in a New Year's Six bowl as the highest-ranked conference champion from outside the Power Five.
Still, the Knights insist they are focused on the task at hand. Last season's last-second loss to Temple, which went on to win the American, helps that cause, offensive tackle Wyatt Miller said.
"I think we've done a good job as far as this whole season of knowing we are taking it week by week and not overlooking an opponent because that's when something bad happens," Miller said.
UCF's breakout season in year two under Frost has also led to the former Nebraska quarterback and Oregon offensive coordinator becoming one of the hottest names on the job market. Especially in Lincoln, where the struggling Cornhuskers may end up parting with coach Mike Riley.
The next couple weeks have a chance to be very eventful for UCF. But first Temple. Things to know about the fifth meeting between the Knights and Owls.
After spending most of the first half of the season searching for a quarterback, first-year Temple coach Geoff Collins seems to have found one in Frank Nutile. The junior took over as starter three games ago and has passed for 803 yards since, helping the Owls go 2-1 and move to within one victory of bowl eligibility.
"He brings some leadership ability, some poise," Collins said. "He gets us in the right plays, right protections, and does a really nice job of distributing the ball to our playmakers. As a leader he's in the special teams huddles. He's over there congratulating the defense or even firing the defense up before they take the field."
The Knights are fifth in the country in offensive plays of at least 20 yards, with 70 of them. Quarterback Milton McKenzie is averaging 10.8 yards per pass attempt as the offense tries to stretch defenses vertically with its speedy receivers such as Tre'Quan Smith (19.03).
"This has got to be one of the most explosive offenses in college football if not the most explosive," Collins said.
Temple counters with maybe the best set of safeties in the conference in Delvon Randall and Sean Chandler, both legitimate NFL prospects. The Owls also rank second in the AAC in sacks at 2.80 per game.
The forecast calls for very un-Florida weather at Lincoln Financial Field, with temperatures that might reach the low 50s and some rain. Temple played in winter-like conditions last week at Cincinnati, and UCF faced colder temperatures last week in Connecticut, where the Knights won 49-28.
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Updated November 17, 2017