The stakes are higher this year.
Hard to believe, but it's true.
When the Temple University football team kicks off its 2017 season two weeks from this coming Saturday in South Bend, Ind., that reality will smack the school's administration and its new head coach right in their collective face.
Put it this way, if the Owls wanna be big time, they have been given a golden opportunity to prove their worth as such. Make no mistake, through the program-building genius of Matt Rhule and the hard work put in by those who bought into his used-car salesman pitches on behalf of the Cherry & White the last four years, they've earned it.
But to get it ... well, that's another altogether.
This ain't your grandfather's Owls, or, hell, even my Owls before, during and after matriculating on the North Broad campus another lifetime ago.
No, these guys get breaks. Their time and effort has been rewarded. With wins. Bowl games. All-America honors. First-round selections.
Beating Penn State for the first in seven decades and change in 2015 got everyone's attention across the country, including right here in metro Philly. Giving Notre Dame all it could handle later that campaign gave further evidence of the program's mounting legitimacy.
Ditto with winning an American Athletic Conference title last year.
Now, a rematch with the Fighting Irish awaits. Only this time with no Rhule or P.J. Walker or Jahad Thomas or Tyler Matakevich or Haason Reddick to lead the charge.
Which is why the stakes are higher.
Thing is, if Temple is ever going to be big time, even just a reasonable facsimile of big time, not only is it going to have to beat teams like Notre Dame and Penn State with some regularity, it is going to have to do so with new players and new direction every few years.
Hey, whether or not Geoff Collins breaks the trend of guys using the Temple gig as a stepping stone to greener pastures and opts to stick around, the fact is each player he brings into the program is on the clock the moment the ink dries on a national letter of intent.
In other words, there will be turnover. Only four years of eligibility allowed, max, and if a kid is good enough, who's to say he'd exhaust that time anyway.
Rhule departing for Baylor was not what the Temple faithful was hoping. Not after he got things rolling in a way they never had before for the school's football program.
But, in a strange way, his decision forces the Owls to take the next step – either up or down.
Notre Dame offers an immediate window into what it will be.
Being the hard sell in this town, down is not recommended. Any good will, or attention, gained the previous two years could be gone in a flash – even if the preferred pro "fare" stinks.
The potential is there, though, to go up.
Ryquell Armstead is a stud at running back, and, frankly, fellow juniors David Hood and Jager Gardner make depth at that position the envy of most schools in the country. The Owls have another defensive star in senior end Sharif Finch. They have the best-known fullback in the country in Nick Sharga thanks to Mack Brown's constant gushing over the young man.
They also appear to have made another great hire. Rhule proved a brilliant choice. Collins has shown the same kind of energy and enthusiasm and recruiting acumen, while – gulp – coming across as even more appealing and more sincere.
But the stakes are high now. That potential needs to be realized.
If the Owls wanna be big time.