Who would have predicted that the Temple Owls, after an 0-2 start, would be playing a first-place showdown in November against college football's hottest team?
But here the Owls are, at 5-3 overall and 4-0 in the American Athletic Conference, facing their toughest test when they visit ninth-ranked Central Florida (7-0, 4-0) on Thursday night. The Knights will be putting their 20-game winning streak on the line.
UCF coach Josh Heupel is not saying publicly whether Heisman candidate McKenzie Milton will start at quarterback after missing the Knights' last game because of an injury. UCF missed him so much, it went out and beat ECU, 37-10. (Temple, by the way, beat ECU, 49-6, and it wasn't that close.)
The key to this game will be turnovers. UCF is third in the country in turnover margin (1.86). Temple has thrown 14 interceptions. If the Owls can play mistake-free, if running back Ryquell Armstead (ankle) can return from a two-game absence, if the defense can limit a UCF offense that is fifth nationally, averaging 44.4 points per game … if, if, and more ifs.
It's so tempting to go with Temple, but the Owls are facing a team that has won 20 straight. Yes, Temple won 26-25 at UCF two years ago, in one of the most exciting comebacks in school history, but that is ancient history. The Knights won easily, 45-19, last year, with Milton having a field day. If Milton doesn't play, Temple's chances obviously increase, but 6-foot-3, 230-pound backup Darriel Mack Jr. is a load to bring down, and it won't be like a Disney vacation facing him in Orlando.
Temple deserves credit for getting to this point, playing for first place in the AAC East Division, but too many things have to go right for the Owls to pull the upset. While Temple should beat the 11-point spread, winning the actual game appears too much to ask.
Prediction: UCF 35, Temple 28