No. 9 UCF faces Temple in key American Conference matchup
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Josh Heupel, whose ninth-ranked UCF Knights have the nation's longest winning streak, calmly answered another question about whether he feels the American Athletic Conference is underappreciated.
The defending AAC champions have won a league-record 20 straight games, but many discount the success because of the strength of their schedule.
"Absolutely, this conference deserves a ton of respect for the way it plays during the course of the season," the first-year coach said ahead of Thursday night's nationally televised test against surging Temple.
"In this league, you have to come ready to play every single week. 'There's great players, there's great coaching in this league."
UCF (7-0, 4-0 AAC) is No. 12 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings released this week and looking to remain in consideration for one of four CFP berths awarded in December.
Cincinnati was ranked in the AP Top 25 until losing in overtime at Temple two weeks ago. South Florida tumbled out of the poll after falling last week at Houston, which in turn vaulted into the current Top 25.
Temple, meanwhile, has won five of six, including three straight, following an 0-2 start. The Owls enter Thursday night tied with UCF atop the AAC East Division standings.
"I think at the end of the year, when all the dust settles, I hope and believe this conference is going to get the recognition it deserves," Heupel said.
The Knights and Owls are both coming off bye weeks that provided extra time to prepare for a matchup between one of the nation's more potent offenses and one of the conference's stingier defenses.
Some things to know about UCF and Temple, who are meeting for the sixth time. The Knights lead the series 3-2, including a 45-19 victory in Philadelphia last season.
It remains unclear if McKenzie Milton, eighth in Heisman Trophy balloting a year ago, will return at quarterback for UCF after sitting out the Knights' 27-point victory at East Carolina on Oct. 20 due to an undisclosed injury.
Heupel said it'll be a game-time decision. Darriel Mack Jr., who made his first college start against East Carolina, will play if Milton isn't available.
"We've got to be prepared for both avenues," Temple coach Geoff Collins said, adding that Milton, who's thrown for 1,797 yards, 16 touchdowns and just four interceptions, is "as dynamic a player as there is in college football.
Temple quarterback Anthony Russo is 5-1 since taking over the starting job following an 0-2 start. He's thrown for 1,410 yards and nine touchdowns, including a game-tying TD pass in the final minute of regulation and a game-winner in overtime to knock Cincinnati out of the Top 25.
Like Milton, a decision on whether Temple running back Ryquell Armstead will play may not be made shortly before kickoff. Armstead has missed the past two games with an ankle injury. He's the Owls' leading rusher with 626 yards and six TDs. There's also a chance defensive tackle Freddie Booth-Lloyd could return for Temple after missing one game with an injured foot.