The American Athletic Conference will crown its champion as the Temple Owls (10-2, 7-1), ranked #22 in the CFP rankings and #20 in the AP poll, face off with the Houston Cougars (11-1, 7-1), ranked #19 in the CFP rankings and #17 in the AP poll, in the AAC Championship Game Saturday afternoon. Houston has taken each of the four previous meetings, including a 31-10 romp as a 9.5 point favorite at home on October 17, 2014 in the most recent meeting.
Temple won their second straight after dropping two of three as they thumped Connecticut 27-3 at home to clinch the AAC East title Saturday. Houston won the AAC West after blasting #15 Navy 52-31 at home last Friday. The game kicks off at 12:00 pm ET from TDECU Stadium in Houston, Texas and will be televised on ABC. Houston is currently a 6 point favorite in this contest with the over/under set at 55 points.
Temple managed to avoid the potential letdown of ending up dropping the AAC East title by shutting Connecticut down last week. The Owls defense stepped things up in a big way: Temple outgained Connecticut 321-138, picked up 18 first downs while allowing nine and controlled the time of possession by holding the ball for 36:49 to the Huskies’ 23:11 in the game. In addition, Temple forced a pair of Connecticut turnovers while not turning the ball over; the Owls kept the Huskies off the scoreboard until less than six minutes remained.
The Owls continue to ride good defense and turnovers to set up short fields as their offense is decidedly mediocre this season. Temple is currently 80th in the nation in passing offense (209.6 yards) and 83rd in rushing offense as they average 158.3 yards per game. The Owls score 32.3 points per game and are 16th in the nation in scoring defense as they allow 18.8 points per contest. P.J. Walker has completed 197 of 347 passes for 2,450 yards with 18 touchdown passes and six picks but he’s averaging 7.06 yards per pass attempt. Jahad Thomas is a force on the ground as he has carried the ball 249 times for 1,188 yards and 17 scores while ranking third on the team with 21 catches for 210 yards and a score. After Thomas, the drop-off in the run game is noticeable as the rest of the team has run the ball 208 times for 711 yards and seven scores; Ryquell Armstead (43 carries, 166 yards, two TD) and Jager Gardner (32 carries, 184 yards, TD) are next in line in the run game. Robby Anderson leads the Owls with 52 catches for 723 yards and six touchdowns while Ventell Bryant is a solid target with 36 grabs for 507 yards and three touchdowns. Austin Jones has nailed 43 of 44 extra points and 18 of 23 field goal attempts on the year with a long of 41 yards.
Houston punched their ticket to the AAC title game by handling Navy, who was previously unbeaten in conference action, at home on Black Friday. The Cougars never trailed; after Navy tied the game at 14 early in the second quarter, Houston scored the next 17 points and didn’t look back. Houston outgained Navy 555-459, won the first down battle 27-17 and controlled the time of possession by a 33:44 to 26:16 margin in the game. The Cougars forced the game’s only turnover and were thrilled to have Greg Ward Jr. back running the offense.
The Cougars are 36th in the nation in passing offense by averaging 259.2 yards per game while ranking 14th in the country with 240.1 rushing yards per contest. Houston has racked up an average of 43.1 points per game, which is currently tied for 7th in the nation; they are tied for 22nd in the nation in scoring defense on the season as they allow 21.1 points per game. Greg Ward Jr. is completing 69.3 percent (196 of 283) of his throws for 2,502 yards with 16 touchdowns and five picks while ranking second on the team with 893 yards and 17 scores on the ground. Adam Schultz (7 of 13, 129 yards) and Kyle Postma (41 of 66, 450 yards, 3 TD, INT, 157 rushing yards, TD) are next in line should something happen to Ward Jr. Kenneth Farrow (182 carries, team high 949 yards, 12 TD) along with Javin Webb (60 carries, 256 yards, 3 TD) and Ryan Jackson (68 carries, 353 yards, 3 TD) provide plenty of options in the backfield. Demarcus Ayers leads the Cougars with 89 receptions for 1,140 yards and six scores; Chance Allen (49 receptions, 658 yards, 4 TD), Steven Dunbar (26 grabs, 338 yards, 3 TD) and Linell Bonner (24 receptions, 306 yards, 5 TD) are the only other players with more than 11 receptions. Three kickers for the Cougars have hit all 67 extra points while banging through 11 of 15 field goals with a long of 45 yards.
Houston is 5-0 ATS in their last five after scoring at least 40 points, 7-1 ATS in their last eight after allowing at least 450 yards, 11-2 ATS in their last 13 after allowing at least 280 yards through the air and 23-9-1 ATS in their last 33 after an ATS win. Temple is 2-5 ATS in their last seven after a straight up win by at least 20 points.
The Owls rely on their defense to generate turnovers to give them good field position because their offense isn’t capable of pulling off multiple sustained drives. Temple will have their work cut out for them against a high powered Houston offense that made life miserable for opponents regularly this season; their only loss came to Connecticut with Ward Jr. out of the lineup. The Cougars have a decent defense and that looms big as well; look for the Cougars to win the AAC title with a solid performance on both sides of the ball.