Right now, it’s pretty clear what the planned ESPN TV narrative will be for tonight’s game, Temple at Cincinnati (7 p.m., main network).
Group of Five team returns home to adoring fans ranked No. 5 in the country with a real hope of being the first team of the sub-FBS group to make the four-team playoff.
Narratives can change, though, depending upon what happens once the ball is kicked off.
For Temple, nothing would be better than the narrative to change to the play of former Elite 11 quarterback and five-star recruit Dwan Mathis.
Owl fans caught a glimpse of what Mathis can do–maybe on the regular–when he took a simple zone read for himself instead of handing to a running back and went 39 yards in a 34-31 win over Memphis. Mathis was too fast for the defensive end and juked the defensive back to pick up a big gain. Mix in 35 completions for 322 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions and the Homecoming crowd of 28,356 got a nice glimpse into the future.
Remember, he did not play at all in a 28-3 loss to Boston College and that game was 21-3 with two minutes left in the fourth quarter.
“If that’s what he looks like on an 80 percent ankle, I’d like to see what he can do on a 100 percent one,” former Georgia starting quarterback Hudson Mason said while doing the game as an ESPN analyst last week.
Hell, maybe Mathis went from 80 percent to 100 percent this week.
We will find out in a few hours.
Like Mason, Mathis is a former starting quarterback at Georgia.
Unlike Mason, Mathis has world-class speed and can turn a simple tuck-and-run into an 80-yard touchdown on any given play.
By comparison, Cincinnati faced a pair of statues in the two Notre Dame quarterbacks it pummeled a week ago. Murray State didn’t have a quarterback like Mathis nor did Indiana.
Mathis can turn around this narrative pretty fast, especially if the Owls’ experienced offensive line and staple of good-but-not-great running backs have a modicum of early success. If the Bearcats go for the running back, Mathis has shown a pretty good instinct for keeping the ball when he sees a lane.
It might not translate into an 80-yard touchdown, but if it keeps enough drives alive for the Owls to get their share of first downs, it won’t have to be. This is the kind of game that the Owls might be better off rolling the pocket and throwing to the best wide receiver tandem in the American Athletic Conference. Watching the Owls on film, Luke Fickell hasn’t seen Mathis take off that much nor throw on the run. He hasn’t seen running back and former quarterback Trey Blair throw a pass off a pitchout, either.
This would be a good time for head coach Rod Carey and offensive coordinator Mike Uremovich to rip off those pages in the playbook and tape them to Mathis’ arm.
Then the narrative changes to how good Mathis and how good Temple can be and not so much Cincy-centric. Right now, everyone is assuming Cincinnati will breeze through the remainder of its schedule and, as UCF found out at Navy last week, assuming anything is dangerous.
Instead of the assumption that Cincy runs the table, a good Temple start could have the announcers talking about Al Golden’s presence for the second-straight game (after not being at a Temple game in a decade) and what a good-luck charm he has become for the Owls. Maybe a sideline reporter pulls new Temple athletic director Arthur Johnson aside for a chat about his vision for Temple’s athletic future.
Maybe even someone brings up the fact that Temple would deliver the nation’s fourth-largest TV market for any Power 5 conference which might be interested in addition to competitive football and basketball programs.
If the Owls win, ESPN will be talking about Temple beating Cincinnati in five of the last six football meetings. Since Cincy is playing for Big 12 prestige, not the AAC’s, nothing would please most of the current members of the league than that narrative supplanting the one ESPN has planned.
Picks this week: I never bet Temple (to win or lose) but the 12.5 over/under in points scored seems way too low. Think the Owls score at least 17, maybe more, but won’t include it in my official picks.
Official picks: IOWA (-2) over visiting Penn State, MEMPHIS (+3.5) at Tulsa (Vegas overreacted to the Temple loss, think Memphis not only covers but wins this game outright), COLORADO STATE (-1.5) over visiting San Jose State and MICHIGAN STATE (-5) in a revenge spot at Rutgers. (CSU’s win over Toledo was more impressive than SJS’s loss to Western Michigan and MSU now has a big-time running back that it did not have last year.)
Latest update: Won on Iowa (23-20), lost on Memphis, won on Colorado State (32-15), won on Michigan State (31-13). For the weekend, our 3-1 record ATS brings us to 15-9-1 ATS on the season.
Tomorrow: Game Analysis