by Jack Kerwin | firstname.lastname@example.org
These Game 8s are getting to be a big deal with Temple University football.
Last year, the Owls entered their ocho contest sporting a 7-0 record, ranked 21st in the country, paired against No. 9 Notre Dame and poised to play before a sold-out crowd at Lincoln Financial Field as well as a national-TV audience – the Cinderella portion of a pretty nifty college football prime-time package.
They put on a good show, had a chance to win and, still, in a way, emerged “winners” despite falling 24-20.
Fast forward to Friday night, and, you know what, we might not be talking in similar hyperbole to how important things are to the Temple program, its history and its future … but maybe we ought to be.
The Owls, once again, are hosting a hot team, on national TV, and, not for nothing, but their American Athletic Conference East Division title hopes are hanging in the balance as well. No, South Florida (6-1 overall, 3-0 conference) doesn’t carry the same kind of cachet as ND, but it’s a quality program, it’s on the rise and it’s the main obstacle in Temple’s way right now.
There won’t be a sellout for this one, and that’s the real catch. For head coach Matt Rhule and Co. to make scenes like last fall’s electric Irish experience more common, they need to take care of business against the likes of USF, in entertaining fashion to boot, enough so that crowds, big crowds, near-sellout crowds, actually start coming to see an Owls-Bulls clash.
You start getting those, you start getting more ND and Penn State extravaganzas dotting the ledger on a more regular basis.
Ironically enough, for those who bailed on Temple this season after its opening-night loss to Army, there are incredible similarities between what has been deemed a disappointing 2016 and 2015’s coming-out party. The Owls’ defense pretty much determines whether or not the team will have a shot to win, and is headlined by one of the nation’s premier players: this year being end Haasson Reddick and last year linebacker Tyler Matakevich. The offense is sluggish, often disjointed, if not stagnant.
Although, frankly, Temple’s offense is better at producing yards, and producing points on its own than 2015, and last week’s 26-25, last-second stunner at Central Florida matched any of the miraculous, “snatch victory from the jaws of defeat” wins that highlighted last year’s 10-4 campaign.
Any additional inspirational for the Owls (4-3, 2-1) could be something so simple: payback. The Bulls embarrassed them in Tampa, Fla., last November, rolling up a 44-23 decision that was more one-sided than it reads.
Hey, it’s Game 8. It’s a big deal.