|No. XX UCF's next hurdle: improved Temple|
Unbeaten Central Florida's visit to Philadelphia on Saturday, for a noon ET kickoff against improving Temple, has all the makings of one of those dangerous November conference tilts that can derail a dream season.
The No. XX Knights (9-0, 6-0 American Athletic Conference) have cruised to this point of the year. Eight of their nine wins have come by double digits. They lead the nation in scoring, averaging 48.6 points per game, and their coach has emerged as arguably the most-coveted prospect in the nation.
A potential New Year's Day bowl berth is within their grasp as the highest-ranked team from the Group of Five conferences. But their biggest game lies ahead: Next week's showdown with 8-1 South Florida will decide who represents the East Division in the American Athletic Championship Game.
UCF coach Scott Frost and his players are going with the "one game at a time" approach and insist that they won't be overlooking a Temple team that has received a spark from a midseason quarterback change.
"We're not going to look ahead," Frost said. "That's not what this group's going to do. That's not what our coaching staff is going to allow to happen. We've got a lot to play for and we've got a lot to play for every week."
UCF receiver Otis Anderson added: "We could lose this (Temple) game and then beat USF, and it would kind of tarnish our season and where we want to be."
The Owls are coming off back-to-back wins over Navy and Cincinnati. Redshirt junior quarterback Frank Nutile will make his fourth straight start for Temple against UCF. Nutile ran for a touchdown and threw for a touchdown in Temple's 35-34 road win over the Bearcats. The victory moved the Owls (5-5, 3-3 AAC) within one win of bowl eligibility.
"Every game, we try to go 1-0 every week and try not to make any game bigger than it needs to be," first-year Temple coach Geoff Collins said in attempt to downplay the significance of Saturday's home finale. "It is a big game, because we are playing in it.
After getting off to a sluggish offensive start to the season, the Owls are averaging 32.3 points per game with Nutile as the starter. In his last two games, Nutile has completed 41 of 60 passes for 513 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions.
"He has done a nice job for us, and I am excited to see what he does," Collins said.
Frost said he's noticed dramatic improvement in the Owls, who got off to uneven start to the season, their first under Collins.
"This is a team that we're about to play that is improving every week that they play," Frost said of Temple.
"They've played really well the last two weeks. We got our hands full and they deserve our full attention. They look like a different team than they did at the beginning of the year. This is a dangerous team and going up to their place is going to be a challenge for us."
Just two years ago, UCF suffered through a winless campaign. Frost arrived in 2016 and immediately took the Knights to a bowl berth. This year, UCF is off to its best start in school history and looking for more.
With success comes interest, though, and Frost is attracting a lot of it. He's rumored to be a potential coaching candidate at Nebraska, where he played quarterback, in addition to Florida and Tennessee. For now, though, he's leading the Knights on a remarkable run and leads an explosive offense against Temple's 68th-ranked defense.
UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton is enjoying a breakout sophomore season. Milton ranks in the top three in the nation in passing efficiency, completion percentage and passing yards per attempt. He's got a big-play weapon in receiver Tre'Quan Smith, who has 10 touchdown receptions through nine games.
"The energy out there today was exceptionally good," Frost said of Monday's practice. "I think the guys are excited. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, so we need to rejuvenate ourselves and ramp it up and be as good as we can be for the next 12 days."