There will be a big Elephant in the room—or, in this case, stadium—tonight when Temple faces No. 9 Central Florida on ESPN (tonight, 7:30).
They will be in the form of another great African animal, Zebras.
If there are some, err, questionable calls by officiating, it should be understandable but certainly not forgivable.
Make no mistake, the American Athletic Conference would prefer for UCF to beat Temple. When that prefer turns into want, that’s where the problem arrives.
The Owls will have to face the ninth-ranked team in the country (though, curiously, not in the FBS playoff top 10 as released Tuesday night). They will have 43,000 fans rooting against them. Their task is hard enough without having the six guys who can make the most impactful decisions making incorrect ones.
It might not even be a conscious bias, but a subconscious one. These officials are employed by the league and know the league would look good with another NY6 bowl and UCF is this league’s best hope for that. Temple, with losses to Buffalo and Villanova, is all but eliminated from a NY6 spot even if the Owls run the table. There may be mulligans in golf, but there are none in college football and that’s why the Owls should have approached those first two games as if they were league championship ones.
This one is. If the Owls win, they have a clear shot to the league title game and can even absorb a loss to Houston next week and win their division if they beat USF and UConn at home. This would be the key win that unlocks that opportunity for the Owls.
The officials, though, know that a UCF win helps the league more.
So is, say, Isaiah Wright takes a kickoff back 95 yards for an apparent score and a late flag comes out on the UCF 5, the reason will be apparent.
The flip side of this argument is that the conference probably also preferred Cincinnati to win last week in Philadelphia but that was in Philly and this is in Orlando and that’s a big difference.
So Elephants and Zebras could be as important as Owls and Knights tonight. If, however, nobody notices the officials, then that’s the way it should be.