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Forget Notre Dame, UConn is Temple's biggest game this season

Playing the Irish in a packed house might have brought the Owls some sizzle, but beating the Huskies will give them a title shot.

IF THIS WERE a conversation about basketball, it would be no surprise that a Temple game against Connecticut could be more significant than one with Notre Dame.

UConn has won four NCAA basketball championships and is a perennial Top 25 team.

This is football, however, and Notre Dame has half as many national championships, as anointed by the Associated Press (eight) as Connecticut has Division I-A seasons (first in 2000).

Huskies football will not draw 66,000 fans and ESPN's "College GameDay" to Philadelphia the way the Fighting Irish did on Halloween.

From cosmetic and glamour standpoints, that game rightfully earned its label as the biggest in the history of Temple football.

Still, cosmetics will not earn Temple points in its quest to reach a New Year's 6 bowl game.

The Owls must meet specific criteria to get into that conversation.

When the College Football Playoff Selection Committee meets to dish out playoff and NY6 bids, the result of Temple's game against UConn on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field will have more impact than what the Owls did against Notre Dame.

Case in point - the Owls lost to the Irish, but did not drop out of contention for an NY6 Bowl. If the Owls (9-2) lose to the Huskies, it could seal their elimination from the selection process.

I have been laying out a path for Temple to earn an automatic bid into either the Peach Bowl or Fiesta Bowl since it won at Cincinnati in Week 2. This series of updates has ranged from wishful thinking to guaranteed directions.

With one regular-season game remaining, staying on that course is now as simple as beating Connecticut.

The first criterion for eligibility is for the Owls to be a champion from among the "Group of Five" conferences. If Temple wins Saturday, the Owls win the American Athlete Conference East Division and earn a spot in inaugural AAC championship game against either Navy, which is 16th in the CFP rankings, or Houston (19th in CFP) - no ifs or qualifiers needed.

It will not matter if South Florida beats Central Florida on Thursday, because the Owls will finish a game ahead in the East, and the tiebreaker, which USF holds, will not be a factor.

Actually, Temple could lose and still clinch the East if South Florida gets upset, but who wants to get into the title game by the back door?

Don't get me wrong, because Temple will gladly accept the title shot however it comes. Still, earning it with a win feels better.

Toledo (9-1, 6-1 Mid-American Conference) is the only "Group of Five" team that could legitimately build a resume strong enough to challenge the AAC champion for the highest ranking. Unfortunately for the Rockets, they lose a tiebreaker to Northern Illinois (8-3, 6-1) and might not advance to the MAC title game for a rematch with Bowling Green, which they just mashed, 44-28. Not playing for the championship eliminates Toledo from NY6 consideration.

Temple finds out Tuesday night whether Saturday's upset of Memphis gets it back into the CFP Selection Committee Top 25. It already is back in the AP poll at No. 25 and is in the Coaches' Poll at 24.

I still believe that if the Owls beat UConn and win the AAC Championship Game on Dec. 5, they will become the highest-ranked "Group of Five" champion and get the automatic bid into the Fiesta or Peach.

Even without looking that far ahead, a victory over Connecticut would make for the greatest "Senior Day" Temple football history.

Temple first played football in 1894.

In 1967, the Owls claimed their only conference championship by winning the MAC.

In 2009, Temple finished with the same 7-1 record as Ohio University atop the East Division of the MAC, but lost the tiebreaker and did not advance to the MAC title game.

So imagine what it must be like for the class of 2015, which went 2-10 in coach Matt Rhule's first season, to be in position to play for the AAC title with a win in their final regular-season game.

That gives new meaning to "Fight, fight, fight for the Cherry and the White."

"I told the team this would be its greatest accomplishment, those seniors this would be their greatest accomplishment," Rhule said after the Owls beat 21st-ranked Memphis, 31-12, in a virtual playoff game. "I don't know if I can philosophically explain it well enough.

"At the end of the day, we've never really been able to win this game. We've won a lot of games, but the game where everyone is watching (and saying), 'OK, can they win the championship game?' we get distracted."

Rhule can run that comment on a loop for his players heading into the Connecticut game.

Because Notre Dame is Notre Dame, the Halloween game at the Linc might be, for the marquee, the biggest game in Temple history.

For what's at stake for the Owls, however, the AAC games that followed, against Southern Methodist, South Florida, Memphis and now Connecticut, are more important.