Temple Owls

ANNAPOLIS, MD - DECEMBER 03: Marshall Ellick #10 of the Temple Owls (R) celebrates with Adonis Jennings #17 after catching a first half touchdown pass against the Navy Midshipmen during the AAC Championship game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on December 3, 2016 in Annapolis, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Temple claims first conference championship since 1967; likely sends WMU to Cotton Bowl

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The Temple Owls (10-3) did their part to make the job a little bit easier for the College Football Playoff’s selection committee in the next 24 hours. A 34-10 victory in the American Athletic Conference championship game in Annapolis against No. 19 Navy (9-3) will more than likely mean MAC champion Western Michigan will be heading to the Cotton Bowl as the highest-ranked Group of Five conference champion. For the Owls, it is the first conference championship in program history since 1967, and just the second conference crown for the Owls.

Temple took care of business in the first half by scoring touchdowns on each of their first three offensive possessions to go up 21-0, stunning the home Navy crowd in the process while key Midshipmen went down with injuries. Starting quarterback Will Worth was among those lost for the day in the first half, while Temple’s Phillip Walker was tossing two touchdown completions with great confidence; one 22-yard pass to Ventell Bryant and a 56-yard deep ball to Keith Kirkwood. Jahad Thomas ran in the first touchdown of the day for the Owls on the opening drive of the game.

For the first time in program history, Temple has won 10 games in a season in back-to-back years. This also marks Temple’s conference championship game victory, a year after playing in the first AAC Championship Game last season as East Division champion on the road against Houston. Perhaps the experience of last season came into play, as did the experience of playing Army in the season opener (which Temple lost). If he has not already, expect Temple head coach Matt Rhule to start hearing his name in a few more rumors and his phone to be a bit more busy as the coaching carousel continues to spin.

Temple is not expected to essentially come out of nowhere to pass an undefeated Western Michigan with three losses on their record, so the Owls will be first in line among the AAC programs to slot into bowl games with conference affiliations this season. A slot in the Miami Beach Bowl would be a nice reward, but a chance to play an ACC opponent in the Military Bowl may also be an option. That would mean returning to Annapolis for a second straight game in Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

Navy already had a spot in the bowl  lineup reserved due to an association with the Armed Forces Bowl. The bowl invitation has already been represented but the Naval Academy was wise to hold off on accepting it until known whether or not a bigger bowl game could be on the horizon. That will not happen this year, as Navy is eliminated from the Group of Five New Years six conversation with the loss to Temple. So Navy will be heading to the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas on December 23. Their opponent is contracted to come from the Big 12, but that spot could be open if the Big 12 cannot fill all of its bowl spots. North Texas could benefit from such a situation, and having a team from Texas would be an ideal alternative for the bowl game. Navy still has one more game to play though, as they play rival Army in the annual Army-Navy Game next weekend in Baltimore. Considering some of the injuries that came into play Saturday, Navy’s health should be a concern with a rested Army coming up next week.

Temple jumps out to 24-3 lead as Midshipmen hit injury bug

ANNAPOLIS, MD - DECEMBER 03: Keith Kirkwood #89 of the Temple Owls (R) celebrates after catching a touchdown pass with teammates Romond Deloatch #11 (L) and Ventell Bryant #1 against the Navy Midshipmen during the first half of the AAC Championship game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on December 3, 2016 in Annapolis, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images
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Navy will play the remainder of the American Athletic Conference championship game without starting quarterback Will Worth, Toneo Gulley or Daryll Bonner. All three left the game with injuries in the first half of the American Athletic Conference championship game in Annapolis. As if that were not enough, the Temple Owls were already up 21-0 at the time and looking to slam the door shut on Navy in its first conference championship game appearance in program history, and on Navy’s hopes of reaching the New Years Six by slipping past MAC champion Western Michigan. Temple leads Navy at the halftime break, 24-3.

Temple, playing in its second straight AAC game after losing at Houston last season, marched right down the field on the Midshipmen on the game’s opening drive. Jahad Thomas capped off the well-executed 12-play drive with a 15-yard touchdown run. The Owls pushed their lead to 14-0 on their next possession after the defense came up with a fourth-down stop at the Temple 41-yard line. Phillip Walker completed a 22-yard touchdown pass to Ventell Bryant. Navy would then uncharacteristically fumble the football away on the fourth play of the ensuing drive, leading to a third Temple touchdown, a 56-yard touchdown pass from Walker to Keith Kirkwood.

Temple’s Avery Williams was ejected in the second quarter for a targeting foul on backup Navy quarterback Zach Abbey. The helmet-to-helmet hit left Williams thriving in pain after the play before walking off the field as the review was underway. Abbey was playing in place of a banged-up Worth, who hobbled off the field moments earlier. Abbey would toss his first completion of his college career later on the drive, which ended with a field goal to get Navy on the scoreboard.

A late interception thrown by Abbey allowed Temple a chance to tack on a late field goal by Aaron Boumerhi from 48 yards out. Just moments earlier, Boumerhi missed from 50 yards.

If Temple goes on to win the AAC championship, it would seem very likely Western Michigan will head to the Cotton Bowl as the highest-ranked Group of Five conference champion. Even with a win, there may not be enough Temple can do with three losses this season to wiggle past the Broncos.

Provisional plans in place in case Navy, ahem, wreaks bowl havoc

ANNAPOLIS, MD - NOVEMBER 14: Sean Reaver #99 of the Navy Midshipmen and teammates run onto the field holding U.S. flags before playing against the Southern Methodist Mustangs at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on November 14, 2015 in Annapolis, Maryland. The Navy Midshipmen won, 55-14. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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As un-American as it is, there are numerous individuals associated with the bowl process, including bowl officials and affected schools, who will be rooting for Navy to lose later on today.

Why? Because if the service academy beats Temple in the AAC championship game, it was initially thought, a portion of the bowl process could be paralyzed as Navy would be in line for the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six bid but still has its annual rivalry game with Army to play next weekend. A handful of bids would likely be delayed for another seven days, potentially putting some teams in a predicament where they would have as little as a 72-hour turnaround from learning where they will play in the postseason to actually playing in the game.

However, Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com reports, a provisional plan has been hatched that would allow 37 of the 40 bowl bids to be announced Sunday as planned regardless of what happens in the AAC title game this afternoon. The plan is based on four teams in particular winning this weekend, with one of the four, Washington, taking care of business Friday night by beating Colorado in the Pac-12 championship game.

The other teams that need to win? No. 3 Clemson (in ACC title game vs. Virginia Tech), 5-6 Louisiana-Lafayette (at 4-7 Louisiana-Monroe) and 5-6 South Alabama (vs. 3-8 New Mexico State). If those three teams win, McMurphy reports, this is what would transpire when it comes to the remaining three bowl games that wouldn’t be able to offer bids this weekend:

Navy is the highest-ranked Group of 5 champion
Navy goes to the Cotton Bowl, Western Michigan plays North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, and Army plays a Big 12 team, most likely Baylor, in the Armed Forces Bowl.

Western Michigan is the highest-ranked Group of 5 champion
Western Michigan goes to the Cotton Bowl, Army plays North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, and Navy plays a Big 12 team, most likely Baylor, in the Armed Forces Bowl.

That said, it’s still possible this tentative plan could be blown to smithereens and the postseason hurled into temporary chaos.

However, bowl officials stressed that those scenarios get blown up if more than three 5-7 teams are needed to fill bowls or there are major upsets in the Power 5 championship games.

“If so,” a source said, “then we’ll have to reshuffle the cards again.

The Group of Six bid, the Cotton Bowl, will come down to either No. 19 Navy or No. 17 Western Michigan, which remained unbeaten with a win in the MAC championship game Friday night.

Why many college football officials are rooting for Temple to beat Navy

PHILADELPHIA - DECEMBER 3:  In this handout provided by the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Naval Academy Color Guard presents the colors during march-on ceremonies during the 106th playing of Army vs.Navy football game on December 3, 2005 held for the third consecutive year at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Mids have won the past three Army-Navy battles to even the all-time series at 49-49-7. Navy has accepted an invitation to play in the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego on December 22.  (Photo by James G. Pinsky/U.S. Navy via Getty Images)
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The quote pretty much says it all.

“I don’t want to be un-American,” a bowl official told ESPN’s Brett McMurphy, “but nearly everyone in the bowl industry, quite frankly, is rooting against Navy.”

Because the commissioners that run the College Football Playoff chose to include the Army-Navy game in the committee’s tabulations, there’s a chance the entire bowl industry could be thrown for a loop this year.

Navy is ranked No. 19 in the latest CFP rankings, two spots behind No. 17 Western Michigan ahead of each’s respective conference championship games this weekend. (WMU will face Ohio in the MAC title game on Friday, while Navy hosts Temple in the AAC Championship on Saturday.) Because of that, Navy is Western Michigan’s only viable competition for the Group of 5’s automatic slot in the Cotton Bowl, meaning a Middies win would require the Dec. 10 Army-Navy game be included in the committee’s Group of 5 tabulations.

And that would create a domino effect for the rest of the bowl industry. Writes McMurphy:

Delaying the Group of 5’s bid to the Cotton Bowl would impact many bowls involving Group of 5 teams. They would have to hold up placing teams in bowls without knowing if its champion could get pulled up to the Cotton Bowl. Also, opponents in those bowls wouldn’t know whom they were playing and then there are the obvious logistic and financial issues involved with waiting another seven days before planning travel, buying tickets and other factors.

That domino effect has a quick turnaround, with only a week between the Army-Navy game and the Dec. 17 kickoff of bowl season. Bowls typically require competing teams to arrive by that Wednesday, Dec. 14, meaning participating teams would have only three days to prepare for a bowl trip.

But wait, there’s more:

Not only would a delay impact the Group of 5 teams, but it also would prohibit the five to seven teams with losing records that qualified because of APR from getting placed into a bowl until Dec. 10 because those teams would go to the bowls that couldn’t be filled by bowl-eligible teams with a 6-6 record or better. The APR teams will be the last teams placed in bowls.

The easiest solution would be a Temple victory or, short of that, a Western Michigan win. (Actually, the simplest solution would be to not consider the Army-Navy game at all, but the commissioners’ infinite wisdom disagrees here.)

If Navy wins and WMU loses, suddenly the Mountain West champ (San Diego State or Wyoming) and possible Conference USA champion Western Kentucky could join the mix. Only conference champions are considered for the Cotton Bowl slot, so 12-1 Western Michigan would not be in the mix.

But the easiest way to avoid all of this would be a Temple victory on Saturday. No pressure, Owls.

Listed as questionable, Temple QB Phillip Walker says he ‘will be ready’ for AAC title game

STATE COLLEGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 17:  Phillip Walker #8 of the Temple Owls passes over the arms of Tyrell Chavis #56 of the Penn State Nittany Lions during the game on September 17, 2016 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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Tuesday, Matt Rhule stated that, if Temple had played that day, starting quarterback Phillip Walker wouldn’t have been healthy enough to play in the AAC championship game.  Fortunately for the player and the program, the title game is still three days away.

Walker suffered what was ultimately determined to be a foot injury in Temple’s win over East Carolina this past Saturday that earned the Owls the AAC East title.  While his head coach’s prognosis wasn’t exactly positive, the starter was decidedly more optimistic.

In fact, Walker declared he “will be ready to go” for the AAC title game at Navy Saturday afternoon.

“I am almost there and I will be ready to go Saturday,” Walker said according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I did a little practicing [Tuesday]. I will be fine.”

Essentially a four-year starter for the Owls, Walker has accounted for 82.3 percent of the Owls’ pass attempts in that span.  The last three years, that number jumps to 97.3 percent.

Should Walker be unable to go, Logan Marchi would get the nod.  The freshman attempted six passes this season, completing two for 29 yards.