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Temple-Cincinnati: Owls need to win to stay in hunt for AAC title-game berth

A win would clinch the American Athletic Conference's East Division for the Bearcats.

Temple wide receiver Jadan Blue running for a touchdown in the fourth quarter against Tulane on Saturday.
Temple wide receiver Jadan Blue running for a touchdown in the fourth quarter against Tulane on Saturday.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

Give Temple wide receiver Jadan Blue credit for his candor.

While most of the Owls repeated a mantra that Saturday’s American Athletic Conference game at Cincinnati is just another game and they simply want to go 1-0 this week, Blue took a different approach. Asked after Tuesday’s practice if it means more because of the championship implications, the redshirt sophomore said, “Of course it does. You know what is at stake.”

What’s at stake is simply Temple’s season.

Cincinnati (9-1, 6-0 AAC) would clinch the East Division with a win. Temple (7-3, 4-2) would remain very much in the race with a win.

Central Florida (7-3, 4-2) is also in the hunt.

If Temple wins and then beats UConn (2-8, 0-6) in its regular-season finale, and Cincinnati loses at West co-leader Memphis (9-1, 5-1) in its last regular-season game, the teams would be tied. In this scenario, Temple would win a two-way tiebreaker because of its victory over the Bearcats.

If UCF makes it a three-way tie, the highest-ranked team in the College Football Playoff poll apparently would get the nod. A win over Cincinnati could vault Temple into the rankings. Whether UCF, which beat Temple, will enter the rankings remains to be seen.

UCF will visit Tulane (6-4, 3-3) and finish the regular season by hosting South Florida (4-6, 2-4).

It’s a lot to digest, but Temple is still in the championship hunt, even though the Owls will need some help. The East Division winner will face the West Division champ in the AAC title game.

Led by a strong defense, Temple has won its last two games: 17-7 at South Florida and 29-21 last week against visiting Tulane. Blue has sparked the offense with 23 receptions for 252 yards and a touchdown in the last two games.

The key, though, has been the defense, led by end Quincy Roche, who has 18 tackles, nine for loss, including 6.5 sacks, in the last two games.

“As long as we can execute our game plan, we should be OK,” Roche said.

The key will be stopping Cincinnati’s run game, led by juniors Michael Warren and Gerrid Doaks. The 5-foot-11, 222-pound Warren has rushed for 833 yards (4.8 avg.) and 10 touchdowns. Doaks (6-foot, 230) has rushed for 424 yards (5.8 avg.) and five touchdowns.

“Both their backs are really good, big, physical guys who can really run and are hard to bring down,” Temple coach Rod Carey said.

The Owls no doubt want to put Cincinnati in passing situations. Redshirt sophomore Desmond Ridder completed 9 of 18 passes for 78 yards during a 20-17, last-second win Saturday at South Florida. Cincinnati escaped despite being outgained by USF, 438-278.

Earlier this week, Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell said in an AAC conference call that Ridder was fine physically.

“Saturday, he was [fine]; he just wasn’t feeling it,” Fickell said. “He got a little bit dinged early in the very first series of the game. I assume he will be perfectly fine and ready to roll.”

Ridder had a frustrating game last season against the Owls. Cincinnati was 6-0 and nationally ranked but lost to Temple, 24-17, in overtime at Lincoln Financial Field. Ridder completed 14 of 33 passes for 111 yards and an interception.

Cincinnati opened as a 10.5-point favorite, despite having recorded only three-point wins over teams with losing records (USF and East Carolina) in two of the last three weeks.

The Bearcats have won 12 straight at home. The last home loss was to Temple on Nov. 10, 2017. If the Owls can contain the run game, another upset would be possible.