No. 9 UCF only knows one way to answer questions about where it stands among the elite teams in college football — keep winning.
The defending American Athletic Conference champions remained unbeaten Thursday night, pulling away from Temple late for a 52-40 victory that extended the nation’s longest winning streak and gave the Knights (8-0, 5-0) sole possession of first place in the AAC East Division.
Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame are only other undefeated teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision. They’re among the front-runners in the race for spots in the four-team College Football Playoff, while UCF remains a longshot despite a sparkling record dating to last season.
“I’m not even concerned about that right now,” coach Josh Heupel said. “Our job is to go 1-0 every week. … If you do that, you probably deserve to go play for something special at the end of the year.”
McKenzie Milton threw for 312 yards and three touchdowns, Greg McCrae rushed for 188 yards and one TD, and the Knights defense forced two turnovers and held Temple to six points after halftime.
Anthony Russo completed 31 of 52 passes for 444 yards and four touchdowns for Temple (5-4, 4-1), which had a three-game winning streak snapped despite gaining 670 yards on a night the teams combined to gain exactly 1,300.
Taj McGowan scored on runs of 1 and 10 yards for UCF, the latter finishing a long drive that put the Knights up 49-40 after Temple (5-4, 4-1) nearly rallied to tie it.
Milton, returning to the lineup after missing a game with an undisclosed injury, finished 17 of 33 with one interception. Dredrick Snelson scored on a 19-yard reception and Michael Colubiale had TD catches of 9 and 19 yards.
Ventell Bryant had seven receptions for 107 yards and two TDs for the Owls. Russo completed passes to 11 different receivers, including Branden Mack and Randle Jones, who scored while building a 34-28 halftime that lasted less than a minute into the third quarter.
UCF took a 42-34 lead into the fourth quarter and stopped a potential tying two-point conversion before pulling away for good.
“Down at halftime, the kids were calm and came out and kept playing,” Heupel said. “I told them at halftime champions love playing in environments like this, in situations like this.”
In addition to staying on top of the East Division standings, UCF remained on course to be part of the discussion about which teams deserve to be part of this year’s CFP.
The Knights, denied a spot in the playoff field a year ago despite finishing as the only undefeated team in the FBS, were 12th in the initial CFP rankings released this week.
LOTS OF OFFENSE
In the first half alone, the teams combined for 808 yards — 510 passing and 298 rushing — with Russo throwing for 277 and three TDs and Milton countering with 233 yards and two TDs. Both quarterbacks had a rushing TD in the second quarter, Russo scoring on a 5-yard run on a fake field goal play.
Temple: The Owls are 5-2 since Russo took over at quarterback following losses to Villanova and Buffalo to begin the season. Armstead returned from missing two games with an ankle injury, immediately making his presence felt with a 33-yard burst on the first play from scrimmage. The senior running back finished with 142 yards on 27 carries.
UCF: Milton had another big night, however the Knights kept the nation’s longest winning streak alive by running for 318 yards and doing a good job defensively of keeping Temple out of the end zone in the second half.
One of the knocks on UCF’s success is the Knights’ strength of schedule. Temple is the only team the defending AAC champions have beaten this season that currently has a winning record. With the Owls entering Thursday night as double-digit underdogs, the Knights will need outside help to move upward.