Temple has been fighting for its bowl-eligibility life, but the Owls face an opponent this week that is in an even more desperate situation.
On Friday, Temple (4-5, 2-3 American Athletic Conference) will visit a Cincinnati team that has no margin for error when it comes to being bowl eligible.
Call it the Super Bowl for bowl-eligible teams. Both teams are coming off wins that should give them a major bounce.
Temple defeated Navy, 34-26, earning its first victory over a Football Bowl Subdivision team with a winning record. (Navy is now 5-3.) The Bearcats (3-6, 1-4) earned their first AAC win last week in a 17-16 squeaker at Tulane.
Each team has three games left in an effort to get to the six-win total that would make them bowl eligible.
On paper, Temple has a little cushion, but next week’s game is against No. 14 Central Florida (8-0, 5-0). The Owls will end the regular season at Tulsa (2-8, 1-5).
Cincinnati will face three sub .500 teams, with the final two games at East Carolina (2-7, 1-4) and home against Connecticut (3-6, 2-4).
Coach Geoff Collins says the Owls approach each game is the same, but the players know about the added importance of this one.
“The next three games will be Cincinnati’s Super Bowl as well as ours,” said Temple defensive end Sharif Finch, who was named the AAC defensive player of the week after recording five tackles and two sacks against Navy. “We are fighting for our lives to get to a bowl game. They have to win every game and we have to pretty much win every game, so they will definitely bring their best and we definitely will bring ours.”
The Owls will start redshirt junior quarterback Frank Nutile for the third consecutive week in place of the injured Logan Marchi.
At Tuesday’s practice, Marchi was taking reps in the portion the media was able to view, but Collins said it would be a game-time decision on whether Marchi or redshirt freshman Anthony Russo would be Nutile’s backup.
Nutile has given the Owls a spark with five touchdowns and just one interception in his first two career starts. He insists he isn’t putting any more emphasis into the game despite the added stakes.
“It is the same basic 1-0 approach; we feel we are in a championship game from here on out,” said Nutile, who completed 22 of 30 for 289 yards with four touchdown and an interception against Navy. “We are trying to give everything we have for these seniors and send them out the right way, so nothing changes week to week.”
One thing that will change is the addition of wide receiver Ventell Bryant, who missed the Navy game because of what Collins called an “internal matter.” That should bolster an ever-improving receiving corps.