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Temple-UCF: A must-win game for both teams whether they like to think about it or not

The loser would face long odds in winning the division and earning a berth in the conference championship game.

Temple coach Rod Carey said this game is a big opportunity for his team.
Temple coach Rod Carey said this game is a big opportunity for his team.Read moreELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer

The cliche among college football teams is that they want to go 1-0 every week. That is their way of saying they aren’t looking past the immediate task.

They insist they have tunnel vision and don’t worry about things like the championship implications of a game.

In that respect, Temple and UCF are on the same page, even though their game Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field shapes up as a losers-walk contest.

That is a nice way of saying that the loser of this game between American Athletic Conference East Division rivals can likely kiss its championship aspirations goodbye.

Actually, it is more of a must-win situation for UCF than Temple, although the Owls would be advised to win if they want to play in the AAC title game.

In the AAC, the champions of the East and West Divisions play in the conference championship game. There have been four title games and either Temple or UCF has represented the East.

Temple went in 2015 and 2016 (when the Owls won the title) and UCF has been the champion the last two years.

This year the East has only three viable contenders: Temple (5-2, 2-1), UCF (5-2, 2-1), and Cincinnati (6-1, 3-0). (The Bearcats’ loss came to another fairly good team from the state of Ohio, those Ohio State Buckeyes.)

UCF has already lost to Cincinnati. Temple will visit Cincinnati on Nov. 23.

If UCF loses to Temple, then the Knights would be two behind Cincinnati, with the Bearcats also owning the head-to-head tiebreaker.

If Temple loses, the Owls would have a chance to play Cincinnati and win the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Still, if Temple loses, the Owls will be two behind with four games left. Not impossible, especially since Cincinnati plays a talented Memphis team in the regular-season finale. Temple beat Memphis, 30-28.

Either way, UCF is in deep, deep trouble with a loss and Temple is simply in deep trouble.

So do the teams look at this any differently since their proverbial backs are against the wall?

The answer from both camps was a resounding “No!”

Were they believable?

You be the judge.

When asked earlier this week if he discussed the potential loser-go-home scenario with his team, UCF coach Josh Heupel, replied, “We are really focused on Temple. Everyone in our program understands you got to continue to win to give yourself a chance and you can only control what you can control and that is Saturday for us and this week in our preparation.”

Temple coach Rod Carey said everybody knows the situation.

“If you are sitting with two losses in the league, you are not out of it yet, but you are probably in trouble, no doubt. But if that is your focus, then I think you’re in trouble already,” Carey said. “You can’t have that focus and we haven’t before last week’s loss [at SMU] and won’t this week, with UCF coming in. There is enough on tape to keep our complete attention without worrying about anything else.”

Fair enough, but it will be interesting if either team pulls out all the stops, playing as if its postseason life is on the line.

Owls guard Vincent Picozzi, a redshirt junior from Lansdale Catholic, said changing the mentality, even for a big game, isn’t advisable.

“We want the same mentality,” said Picozzi, who has made 26 career starts. “We don’t want to psyche ourselves out by saying that [it is a losers-walk game], so we have the same mentality each week.”

OK, then it is up to the media to beat the must-win drums.

While both teams insist the only goal is to go 1-0 this week, the one that turns out 0-1 can likely begin making preparations to try to qualify for next year’s championship game.