The notices were up this Monday.
Taped on the door of the Wayne Densch Center for Student-Athlete Leadership, there was a flyer instructing people on how to obtain their tickets for the Black Friday showdown versus the South Florida Bulls. For sure, tickets were already scarce nearly two weeks out from gameday. The anticipation for this year's War on I-4 may be at record heights.
But nothing was said about that game inside the building when head coach Scott Frost and some of his players met with the media. This is Temple week, and the goal is to stay focused on Temple no matter how eager the fans are to set their schedules for Nov. 24. Of course, these players aren't blind; they know what's ahead of them. They know that an undefeated season is a possibility. But good luck trying to get them to say anything about those topics right now. Frost and his staff have obviously spent a lot of time constantly reminding their players of what will happen if they don't concentrate solely on the task at hand.
"As a team, we understand that if we don't focus on a team, all those rankings, everything we've worked so hard for this season is out the window," offensive lineman Wyatt Miller said. "... We're trying to go undefeated every week."
The 15th-ranked Knights and the Owls will kick off at high noon Saturday inside Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field.
- Play-by-play: Mike Couzens, who is in his fifth year at ESPN as a play-by-play broadcaster. He calls college football, men's college basketball, college baseball and high school basketball for the network. He was on the call for last week's win over UConn with John Congemi.
- Analyst: John Congemi, who has been calling college football games for ESPNU since 2005. Congemi lives in Florida and is also a Miami Dolphins' analyst for the team's official website.
The last meeting, 2016: Here's another reason why you shouldn't expect the Knights to look past the Owls: Much of this team remembers what happened and how they felt when these programs met last season in Orlando. The Knights blew a 25-7 lead, were shut out in the second half and lost 26-25 after the Owls scored a touchdown with one second remaining. Even more than a year removed, senior linebacker Chequan Burkett called it a "heartbreaking" defeat. It was UCF's Homecoming game, no less.
"Temple left a nasty taste in our mouths last year," Burkett said. "We're just trying to bounce back from that."
The Owls went on to win each of their next six contests, including the American Athletic Conference Championship game over Navy. That would not have been possible without that stunning comeback versus the Knights.
Three Things You Should Know
Perfect 10s?: With a win Saturday, UCF would go to 10-0 on the season and lock up the first 10-game winning streak in program history. The only other time the Knights won nine consecutive games came during their Fiesta Bowl run of 2013.
Also, the Knights' offense, which still paces the nation at 48.6 points per game, currently leads the FBS in most consecutive contests with at least 30 points scored. UCF will look to push that streak to 10 as well in Philadelphia.
Punters are people too: Move over, "Cheese and Bread." The Knights have a new viral sensation and it's none other than
Tormund Giantsbane from Game of Thrones junior punter Mac Loudermilk. His "bat flip" celebration following a 69-yard punt versus UConn turned him into an internet celebrity for a little while.
Loudermilk said he planned that celebration before the season just in case he hit a home run-like punt such as that one, which was the eighth-longest in school history. And if he is able to drop a kick at the 1-yard line, expect him to whip out the invisible 9-iron and showcase his air-golf swing. That type of energy isn't the norm for the position, but Loudermilk said he wants to prove that "us punters aren't just dorks."
By the way, Loudermilk hasn't cut his fiery-orange locks in almost two years and has let his beard grow out since last year's bowl game.
More recognition for Milton: It's another week and another honor for quarterback McKenzie Milton. On Wednesday, he was named a semifinalist for the Walter Camp Award, which goes to college football's player of the year. He became a semifinalist for the Davey O'Brien Award (best QB in the nation) Nov. 7 and was named a semifinalist for the Maxwell Award (collegiate player of the year) Oct. 30.
Temple Coming In
With the Knights on deck, the Owls have been on the rise, conquering their past two opponents to get themselves to 5-5 and one game from bowl eligibility. Temple's scoring output has increased in each of its past three matchups, up to season-high 35 points in its win at Cincinnati last week.
"Their record doesn't really show how talented they are," running back Otis Anderson said of Temple "... We have to come with the mindset that we're playing in a championship game."
When UCF Has the Ball
UCF Offense: Meeting high standards. The Knights scored 49 points and gained more than 500 yards versus Connecticut. Their reaction to that performance? Anderson said the players were "very disappointed." This is where we are with this offense. Their standard really is that high. And there were certainly missed opportunities to harp on. UCF was held scoreless in a quarter for just the second time all season. The Knights failed on two fourth-down tries in UConn territory. Anderson lost a fumble inside the Huskies' 35. A bad snap resulting in a 14-yard loss stunted another drive. It makes for a head coach's favorite recipe: Teachable moments inside a resounding win.
"I've been kind of in this place before where you score 49 points and you're disappointed, when you're winning games and you're not elated afterwards because you didn't feel like you played your best," Frost said. "That's a great place to be in. There's a few little holes, but the ship isn't sinking here. I just don't think we've put a complete game together for a while, from an offensive, defensive and special teams standpoint. To win these last few games, we're going to have to be firing on all cylinders in all three phases."
Temple Defense: Caught behind the line. The Knights' offensive line held up fairly well against SMU's attacking front a few weeks back. That group will have to bring it once again Saturday as Temple has three players -- defensive linemen Jacob Martin, Quincy Roche and Sharif Finch -- who are averaging better than a half-sack per game. The Owls also sit tied for 15th in the FBS with 7.5 tackles for loss per game and are co-leaders in the AAC with 28 total sacks.
On the flip side, UCF has allowed just nine sacks, tied with Navy for the best mark in the conference. However, be aware that the Knights have attempted 194 more passes than the Midshipmen.
When Temple Has the Ball
Temple Offense: Forget the past. Don't concern yourself with Temple's placement near the bottom of many offensive categories in the AAC; those numbers have become outdated. This offense has found its groove with junior QB Frank Nutile, who has thrown six touchdowns and completed 68.1 percent of his throws in his three starts since taking over for injured starter Logan Marchi. Meanwhile, Temple's ground game has racked up at least 200 yards in two of those three showings.
"They look like a different team now than they did at the beginning of the year," Frost said of the Owls.
UCF Defense: A scary thought. The Knights have at least a couple of outstanding outings on defense this season. How they flustered Maryland and Memphis immediately come to mind, and keeping Navy more than 100 below its season average in rushing yards was pretty impressive as well. But that's nothing compared to what is possible, according to Burkett.
"The defense has not played its best yet," he said.
Perhaps that's just motivational talk because you never want to be completely satisfied. But if that is how Burkett and his teammates honestly think, we might be in for quite a show from this defense at some point in the next few weeks.
Line: The Knights began the week as a 14-point favorite and the line now sits at 13. I think this is the first time all season in which the line has moved away from a favored UCF by the end of the week. Does that mean anything? It's a small signal that this game could be closer than Vegas expects. The over-under is 56.
Weather: The Knights prepared themselves early on for a cold day in Philadelphia. Well, the kickoff temperature should be around 50.
"When you're from where I'm from, that's not cold; that's just football," Frost said.
Cloudy skies should persist throughout and showers will pop up in the second half. There will be a 12 mph wind coming out of south-southwest.
Pick: After hearing player after player after player say that they aren't looking ahead to USF, that their full attention is on Temple, that the most important game of the year is the one directly in front of them, I have just one thing to say: I believe it.
UCF 41, Temple 24