Week 2 - September 12, 2015 - Time: 8:00 PM ET - Nippert Stadium
Who Are They?
This is around the part of the list where things get dicey. The teams are very similar in talent, but present very different challenges. Not to mention, this is where the actual scheduling becomes a greater factor in the ranking with home-field advantage playing a larger role.
Last season, Temple finished 6-6 with a 4-4 record in the American Athletic Conference. They were one of those teams that beat the teams they were supposed to (Vanderbilt, Delaware State, UConn, Tulsa, Tulane) and were dangerous against other opponents, beating East Carolina and nearly topping both Memphis and Cincinnati behind great defensive efforts.
What Temple brings to the table, in their matchup with Cincinnati, is a defense. Like a real one. Last season, the Owls tied for fourth in the nation in points per game allowed, only giving up an average of 17.5 per game. They forced 30 turnovers and scored on six of those turnovers. Plus, they return a senior linebacker in Tyler Matakevich who has made over 100 tackles in each of his first three seasons, racking up 355 in his career. That's the most career tackles in the NCAA entering this season. The secondary is talented and the defensive line has it's own set of talented young players who could blossom into playmakers.
The issues for Temple come in offensively. Sophomore (*junior - thanks Class of 1985) P.J. Walker shows promise, but still limited the offense a year ago, throwing for 2,317 yards with 13 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He also added 324 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground. In the running game, Jahad Thomas returns after posting 384 rushing yards with a 4.8 yards per carry average. Sophomore Zaire Williams is supposed to factor into the mix in the run game after missing most of last season with a back injury.
In the passing game, senior Jalen Fitzpatrick returns after posting 730 receiving yards and six touchdowns last season. Outside of Thomas' 364 receiving yards, nobody else on the roster surpassed 200 over the season.
Why We Should Worry...
Just look at last season's outcome (Cincinnati won, 14-6). Temple held Cincinnati to 14 points, which can't be ignored. Certainly, there were other factors in the late season clash, with Gunner Kiel dealing with ongoing injuries and the fact that it was a chilly November home game for Temple. Yet, the Owls still held the Bearcats. The Temple defense is one of the few defenses on Cincinnati's schedule that has the potential to limit the Bearcats offense. I say limit because I have trouble believing Cincinnati can be shut down, but Temple did limit/contain them last season.
Additionally, the Temple offense shouldn't concern many in the preseason, but Walker has shown glimpses of being a solid player. Temple would need a complete game to seriously challenge Cincinnati, or at least a poor showing from the Bearcats, but the defensive pieces make Temple a team that could hang around a little longer than Cincinnati would like.
And Why We Shouldn't...
I can talk about the Cincinnati offense and the numerous weapons at their disposal, but I think the key to Cincinnati's success perhaps lines more in the scheduling of this game.
For a moment, let's say that Temple and Cincinnati meet in Nippert Stadium on September 12 and the talented Temple defense limits the Cincinnati offense, containing big plays and making the Bearcats earn a tough 17 points. The question then becomes, can Temple score enough to capatilize?
I personally don't see it. Nippert will be rocking all season, but this will be the first true test in the renovated stadium, so you know the fans will be out and will be loud. Plus, Temple's biggest weakness is their offense, which traditionally takes some time to get clicking. There is timing involved and players that get comfortable in new roles. Temple has the opportunity to achieve some semblance of balance in their offensive attack this season, but I don't see it happening by Week 2. Not to mention, Temple opens their season against a solid Penn State team that likely won't let the Owls offense find their rhythm in the same way Cincinnati's is expected to in their Week 1 matchup with Alabama A&M. After a tough game against Penn State, Temple will have to travel to Cincinnati to challenge a Bearcats defense that will be fresh.
Temple is a scary team this season overall. Walker should only get better and if their offense can get better a putting points on the board, they will beat some good teams in 2015. That said, I don't think the offense will be in a rhythm by Week 2 when they travel to Nippert. I give the Bearcats defense the advantage there.
We continue to transition into a new era of football, particularly in college football, where elite defenses aren't enough to win and regardless of how you would classify Temple's defense, it's going to be very hard to completely shutout the Bearcats this season. Even if the game breaks out similar to how it did a year ago, I don't think the Owls will be able to score enough offensively in the early season to win this game.