“It’s football night on ESPN 2, 5 and 6!”
With those words, comedy legend and Temple alum Bill Cosby welcomed ESPN2 viewers to a 2008 broadcast between his beloved Owls and the Ohio Bobcats. Though Cosby is not expected to be in attendance tonight, the teams will clash again on ESPN numero uno with huge Mid-American Conference East Division implications.
The game will be the third straight year in which MAC East title hopes rest on the outcome. Ohio climbed into the divisional driver’s seat the last two years with wins against Temple. This time around, both teams find themselves in the middle of a chaotic race to Detroit for the MAC championship game.
The top five of the seven MAC East teams have two or three conference losses. No squad has separated itself as a clear favorite, but tonight’s matchup could change that.
“That’s a hard-knock game right there. That’s going to be a battle,” senior receiver LaVon Brazill said. “We don’t like them, they don’t like us, and we’re both fighting for the first position in the conference. I think it’s going to be like a war out there.”
Despite losses to Ball State and Buffalo — both of which Temple shut out —
Ohio controls its own destiny. Four conference wins would send the Bobcats to the Motor City for the second time in three seasons, but a loss would leave the team praying for help, or at least a bowl bid.
“We just take it as a rivalry,” senior receiver Riley Dunlop said. “It’s always a hyped-up game because usually they dominate in the MAC. We’ve owned it the last few years, but it’s always going to be a battle.”
Temple has picked up wins with its lock-down defense and punishing rushing attack. Running back Bernard Pierce leads the conference in rushing with an average of 119 yards per game. Matt Brown contributes another 70 yards per contest on the ground to give the Owls the best rushing figures in the MAC.
Ohio’s defensive line will get a boost as it attempts to prevent the holes that Pierce and Brown have found all season. Lineman Carl Jones will return to the lineup for the first time since being injured at Buffalo Oct. 8.
“It looks like he’s going to be ready to play. He’s moving around well, but you never know until he’s out there,” coach Frank Solich said.
Nose tackle Neal Huynh is still out with a leg injury sustained against Kent State in the MAC opener.
Cornerback Omar Leftwich played against Akron Oct. 22 but did not last the duration. Solich said he would be ready to go “with no problem.”
The three days off last week gave Ohio’s offense a chance to heal some bumps and bruises. The full starting unit will face the MAC’s stingiest defense. The Owls have held their opponents to 91 rushing yards and 173 passing yards per game.
“They have no weak spot. They have some strong DBs, some strong safeties, and their linemen are good,” Brazill said. “We’re just going to have to zone in and play hard and pretty much outplay them.”
Temple’s defense has allowed 14 points or fewer in seven of its eight games. Since dropping a 36-13 decision to Toledo Oct. 1, Temple has outscored its opponents 86-13. But all 13 of the points the Owls surrendered came during a three-point upset loss to Bowling Green Oct. 22.
The trend is similar to last season, when the Owls shut out two of their three opponents before facing the Bobcats. Ohio put up the second-most points that Temple allowed all season in the 31-23 win.
The teams know what to expect from each other at a general level, but both squads might have some tricks up their sleeves under the lights on ESPN.
“I’m not going to say,” Brazill said. “Just wait and see. Hopefully we’re going to have to make some plays out there.”