The Temple Owls will face a difficult task on many fronts when they host Central Florida at noon Saturday in an American Athletic Conference football game at Lincoln Financial Field.
The biggest challenge will be in stopping the offense of Central Florida (9-0, 6-0 AAC). The Knights are No. 1 in the nation in scoring, averaging 48.6 points. Led by sophomore quarterback McKenzie Milton, they also are second nationally in passing efficiency. Milton has completed 69.6 percent of his passes for 2,720 yards and 22 touchdowns. He also has rushed for 350 yards (5.4 avg.) and four touchdowns.
Milton simply is one of the most improved players in college football. In last year's 26-25 loss to the Owls, Milton completed 13 of 22 passes for 210 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He also scored on a 63-yard run in the second quarter that increased the UCF lead to 25-7 before Temple stormed back.
"Their quarterback can get the ball in the right spots and has a quick release," Temple coach Geoff Collins said earlier this week. "… If everything is covered, he has the ability to tuck the ball and run, and it happened last year in the first half."
The Owls (5-5, 3-3) are playing their best football of the season, coming off wins over Navy and Cincinnati.
Quarterback Frank Nutile, who will make his fourth start for injured Logan Marchi, has provided the Owls with a major spark.
"He is like the rest of the team: I think from the beginning of the season until now, they look like a different outfit," UCF coach Scott Frost said during Monday's AAC media call. "Finding him and getting him to play well has been a big part of it, and I think a lot of people can build off that and gain confidence."
While Nutile isn't anywhere near the running threat that Milton is, Frost said he has seen some versatility in the Owl's game.
"It is fun to watch him doing things, making throws, running when he has to, and getting the ball to guys that can make plays," Frost said. "I am impressed with the progress they have made and how they look on tape."
UCF, which is a 14-point favorite, is ranked No. 14 in the Associated Press poll and 15th in the College Football Playoff poll. The Owls have beaten ranked teams in three straight years: 20-10 over No. 21 East Carolina in 2014, 31-12 over No. 21 Memphis in 2015, and 34-10 over No. 19 Navy last season in the AAC championship game.
Collins relishes the underdog role.
"Our kids have a chip on their shoulder, and they know they have put in the work and faced adversity and come out the better for it," he said.
Frost insists that his team won't look ahead to next Friday's showdown with No. 20 South Florida. Temple, meanwhile, needs to win against UCF or next Saturday at Tulsa (2-9) to become bowl-eligible.
Noon Saturday, Lincoln Financial Field
Radio: WPEN, 97.5 FM
Coaches: UCF, Scott Frost (second season, 15-7); Temple, Geoff Collins (first season, 5-5).
Central Florida: WR Tre-Quan Smith, 6-1, 210, R-Jr. (40 receptions, 761 yards, 10 TDs); QB McKenzie Milton, 5-11, 185, So. (69.6 completion percentage, 2,720 yards, 22 TDs, 350 yards rushing, 5.4 avg., 4 TDs); CB-KR-PR Mike Hughes, 5-11 191, Jr. (3 interceptions, 30.3 kick return avg., 1 TD; 18.5 punt return avg., 1 TD); RB Adrian Killins, 5-8, 158, So. (599 yards rushing 8.1 avg., 8 TDs); LB Shaquem Griffin, 6-2, 229, R-Sr. (44 tackles, 6 TFL, 6 QB hurries); LB Pat Jasinski, 6-1, 233, Jr. (team-high 69 tackles).
Temple: QB Frank Nutile, 6-4, 225, R-Jr. (65.0 percent completion percentage for 893 yards, 6 TDs, 3 interception); RB David Hood, 5-9, 190 R-Jr. (397 yards rushing, 4.4 avg. 3 TDS); WR Isaiah Wright, 6-2, 212, So. (36 receptions, 541 yards, 3 TDs, 7 KO returns, 30.0 avg., 1 TD); DE Sharif Finch, 6-4 250 Sr. (45 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss 5.5 sacks); S Delvon Randall, 6-1, 220, Jr. (65 tackles, 4 interceptions); S Sean Chandler, 6-0, 195, Sr. (58 tackles, 1 INT).
Tied at 2-2. Last year, the Owls earned a last-second 26-25 win at UCF on Oct. 15.