Thursday Night Football Features Outstanding Trio

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The Thursday night football offering this week is perhaps the best since a loaded Week 1. On tap: a classic trap game; a possible de facto conference championship game; and a surprising upstart facing a one-time favorite now on the brink.

Undefeated Temple kicks off Thursday night football, and I have just one thing to say to Matt Rhule’s Owls — or, more accurately, Admiral Ackbar has one thing to say:

Temple finally broke into the Top 25 this week, but the Owls have the potential to accomplish so much more. They’re on pace to win the American Athletic Conference’s East division and play in the league’s inaugural title game.

And, with the AAC looking like a clear, runaway favorite to win the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six bowl berth, that carrot dangles in front of the Owls’ faces.

But Temple can dream even bigger. With three teams ranked in the Top 25 and a fourth just outside, the American has a strong case to send an undefeated champion to the College Football Playoff.

Already boasting a win over Penn State, an undefeated Temple team would have the strongest case at season’s end. The reason?

An unblemished regular season would include a win over Notre Dame, which visits Philadelphia next week.

Temple could be the center of the college football universe on Halloween, assuming the Owls are still undefeated. But carrying its perfect record into next week is predicated on surviving a Thursday night football road test at East Carolina.

The Pirates are 4-3, having played a difficult slate thus far that includes road trips to Florida and BYU, and a matchup with an outstanding Navy team. ECU played both the Gators and Cougars within a touchdown, and beat Virginia Tech by a score.

While not as explosive as in recent years, East Carolina has carried on admirably without either quarterback Shane Carden, or offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley. The Pirates’ 32.1-point per game offense will test Temple’s outstanding defense with a unique approach, playing two quarterbacks.

After presumptive front-runner Kurt Benkert was injured before the season, Blake Kemp was entrusted to quarterback the pass-happy scheme head coach Ruffin McNeill brought from Texas Tech. Results are mixed: Kemp is completing better than 72 percent of his pass attempts, but has just 10 touchdowns to six interceptions.

Recently, dual-threat back-up James Summers has provided East Carolina with a necessary spark. He ran wild on Virginia Tech to the tune of 169 yards and scored two touchdowns — the first game in a four-outing span in which he’s rushed into the end zone at least once.

Summers against a Temple defense ranked eighth nationally in rushing yards allowed is certainly intriguing. The two-quarterback look, and the possibility of Temple looking ahead to Notre Dame, could catch the Owls off-guard in Greenville.

On the other side of the state of North Carolina, kicking off just a half-hour after East Carolina and Temple get underway, the Sun Belt Conference could be decided early with Georgia Southern’s visit to Appalachian State.

While plenty of games remain, the Eagles and Mountaineers look like the Sun Belt’s two best teams. They’re two of just three remaining with an unblemished conference record, the other being Arkansas State, which survived a late rally on #FunBeltTuesday to down Louisiana-Lafayette.

Both Appalachian State and Georgia Southern are undefeated since sustaining early-season losses to Power Five opponents: Georgia Southern to West Virginia Week 1, and Appalachian State to Clemson Week 2. Otherwise, the Mountaineers are 5-0 with an average margin of victory of 39 points.

Defending Sun Belt champion Georgia Southern is 5-0, winning by 26.8 points per.

Georgia Southern and Appalachian State feature some of the Group of Five’s most electrifying playmakers. GSU running back Matt Breida trails only Dalvin Cook and Leonard Fournette in rushing yards per game, and his ridiculous pace of 10.3 yards per carry sets the national pace.

App State defensive end Ronald Blair is an absolute terror off the edge. Look for him to disrupt Georgia Southern’s option offense more than a few times.

A cool sub-plot of Appalachian State-Georgia Southern possibly deciding the Sun Belt is that this series shaped the FCS Southern Conference for the previous two decades. Both made the jump to FBS together a season ago, and have acclimated quickly.

Underdog Dynasty took a look at classic moments in the rivalry earlier this week. I highly recommend getting acquainted with the rich, albeit brief history that adds a new chapter tonight in Boone.

Thursday night football wraps with #Pac12AfterDark from the Rose Bowl. In my preview for Athlon Sports, I noted distinct similarities between this year’s Cal-UCLA encounter and last season’s.

UCLA is coming off back-to-back conference losses tonight as it did then, but used a win over Cal to jump-start its season.

The bad news for the Bruins? This Cal team is significantly better all-around, but especially on defense. Conversely, I’m not convinced this UCLA team hasn’t regressed, particularly without Myles Jack, Fabian Moreau and Eddie Vanderdoes.

Quarterback Josh Rosen’s inconsistency is also problematic when opposite one of the nation’s top turnover-generating defenses.

And, while home-field advantage often matters in college football, the Pac-12 is an exception. UCLA is REALLY an exception, having lost four of its last six conference games at the Rose Bowl.

UCLA needs some good mojo to counteract the negative building up on this season. Time to break out the alternate uniforms!

A reporter on this week’s Pac-12 teleconference asked Jim Mora if the planned black-out — of which Mora knew nothing — would help his team.

It’s a patently ridiculous question…but that said, UCLA’s record when donning alternate duds in the Mora era is 5-1. The Bruins blasted Arizona sporting navy blue in 2012; ran roughshod over Washington and Virginia Tech in black in 2013; and survived a defensive slug-fest against Arizona wearing charcoal last season.

OK, so uniform choice bears zero significance on tonight’s outcome. But if UCLA wins yet another game in alternate uniforms, perhaps it’s time for the equipment managers to make the third options the full-time gear?