Temple treating first-place showdown against Central Florida like any other game
The players insist nothing is different this week, despite the fact that Thursday's opponent UCF has won 20 games in a row and is tied for first with the Owls in the AAC East.
Few outside of the football facility expected Temple to be playing a meaningful game in November, but that will be the case Thursday night when the Owls (5-3, 4-0 American Athletic Conference) visit No. 9 Central Florida in a nationally televised first-place showdown.
After the Owls lost their first two games, few thought that the words "first place" and "Temple" would be used in the same paragraph, let alone same sentence.
Yet the Owls and UCF are the only teams with unbeaten East Division records. So playing for first place, on ESPN, no less, would seem to create an extra buzz around the Temple training facility.
When asked if this was extra special and any different than previous games, Temple running back and special-teams ace Rob "Nitro" Ritrovato squashed that idea with a simple reply.
"Can't be," he said.
That has been the Temple mantra all season, that no one game is more important than the other. So despite what is at stake, the Owls refuse to get any more outwardly excited than any other week.
Isn't this matchup different?
"No, not really," said defensive tackle Michael Dogbe, who has a team-high eight tackles for losses, including six sacks.
Temple doesn't even care that UCF has won 20 consecutive games, the longest current streak in the nation.
What is of interest is the injury situation for both teams.
Temple running back Ryquell Armstead has missed the last two games with an ankle injury, and coach Geoff Collins reiterated during his Tuesday news conference that the senior from Millville, N.J., will likely be a game-time decision.
Collins said the same about defensive tackle Freddie Booth-Lloyd, who missed the most recent game, a 24-17 overtime win over Cincinnati, while wearing a boot on his left foot.
The Temple coach did say that redshirt sophomore receiver and special-teams standout Freddie Johnson will be available. Johnson missed the last three games after briefly quitting the team and then returning.
The real attention will be on UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton, who was eighth in the Heisman Trophy voting last year and is considered a candidate this season.
UCF, like Temple, had a bye last week, but Milton missed the Knights' most recent game, a 37-10 win at East Carolina on Oct. 20, with an undisclosed injury.
On Monday, UCF coach Josh Heupel said in the AAC media call that Milton will be a game-time decision.
Collins said that the Owls are preparing for both quarterbacks. UCF backup Darriel Mack Jr. rushed for 120 yards but passed for just 69 in the win over ECU.
Collins pointed out that this isn't the first time the Owls have had to prepare to potentially face multiple quarterbacks. "We had to do it against East Carolina, which rotated three quarterbacks," he said.
Temple had no problem with it against ECU, beating the Pirates, 49-6, but this is a whole different story.
Collins is quick to point out that UCF is much more than Milton, even though he feels the junior quarterback is among the best in the country. "They have a number of weapons at running back, wide receiver, and their tight end is really good," he said.
The Knights are fifth in the nation in scoring offense, averaging 44.4 points per game. UCF is averaging 9.1 explosive plays per game (plays of 20 yards or more).
The Knights will play an up-tempo offense, although Temple is used to that. For instance, in a 31-17 win over Tulsa, the Golden Hurricane ran 107 offensive plays. Of course, defending Tulsa and facing UCF is nowhere near the same.
Yet the Owls, at least outwardly, are treating the UCF game the same way they did Tulsa.
"The goal every year obviously is to win the conference, go 1-0 every week, and we are in that position and have to keep that mentality," Ritrovato said. "We have to keep working."
And leave the hype to the outside world.