It always was comical to me that so many people pointed to Penn State as the BIG game on Temple’s schedule, and that beating the Nittany Lions would be the end-all, be-all of the 2015 Owls’ football existence. Yeah, sure, it was high time that Temple finally snapped a 74-year skid against its in-state Big Brother. The losing had gotten old and stale, and, frankly, far more of an emotional beatdown than a physical one.
But, if any game on the Owls’ slate was a “given” for me this year, it was that. Had no doubts they’d win that one. Had no doubts they had the better team, the better coaching, the better talent, the better uniforms, the better everything. In fact, as the final seconds of that 27-10 Temple victory ticked away the main memory recall now was thinking, “How the hell did the Owls only beat Penn State by 17?”
Just as serious, though, not a single game since has evoked the same kind of assuredness here, if any at all. The reality is, Temple has faced bigger obstacles since Penn State, with Cincinnati the most talented team, Massachusetts the biggest scare and East Carolina the most morphed combo of the two.
Up next, Notre Dame trumps all. Not by as much as most think, but still …
Unbeaten was never in yours truly’s vocabulary whenever glancing at the Owls’ slate. Oh, a win seemed possible each and every time out. Just as it usually does when the series of passing-by rationalizations are tossed in there. Having seen an Owls squad that finished 2-10 hang quite well with the Irish in South Bend, Ind., two years ago, believing this edition under head coach Matt Rhule could do much better has never been hard to digest.
But a loss Saturday night wouldn’t surprise. Then again, neither would a win. Full disclosure: Not a single inkling exists in my mind for a close game. All vibes scream blowout win to me. By either side. Yeah, even Temple’s.
Lincoln Financial Field is sold out for Saturday night's Temple game vs. Notre Dame, just as it was when the Owls hosted Penn State (above) back on Sept. 4.
No pressure. It’s all on them.
The refrain is the oft-used one of a non-believing crowd prepping itself for defeat, almost afraid of the alternative because – gasp – that couldn’t possibly happen, could it?!!
As the weeks drew closer to Saturday’s Temple-Notre Dame tilt at Lincoln Financial Field, with the unthinkable of the Owls coming into that matchup unbeaten evolving into clearer reality with each win, be it a convincing one or yet another Houdini act, the voices have multiplied and gotten louder to share in this mindless, unified condescension:
“Oh, there’s no pressure on Temple. It’s all on Notre Dame. The Irish are expected to win. They should cream the Owls. If they don’t …”
If they don’t … then what?
Idiots. There is NO pressure on Notre Dame in this game. Absolutely NONE. In the grand scheme of things, this is just another game against another ranked opponent in another prime-time setting among an infinitesimal list of them for the most revered and reviled program in the history of college football. Win or lose, nothing will change for the Irish. Their place among the elite – even when they suck, and, believe me, they have sucked at times – is etched in stone thanks to almost 100 years of mostly high-quality performance and a following that knows no bounds.
Temple? You gotta be kidding me …
This is the Owls’ shot. The ultimate, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a program banned to a black hole of afterthought even on its own campus to make some headway along North Broad and beyond. Oh, they could get creamed and recover, and somehow manage to bandage egos and patch recruiting avenues to get back to this point again. But how likely is that? Maybe it’s not the next-door neighbor to impossible, but it’s in the same neighborhood.
Here’s the deal: In sports, as in life, there are always going to be the haves and have-nots, and then by the grace of good fortune, hard work or total fluke, times will pop up when a have-not is presented a chance to join the have lot. When that chance arises, it needs to be recognized and acknowledged as such, and then utilized in order to, well, hit that “have” jackpot.
This is Temple’s chance. How it performs in the spotlight will affect the program in everything stinkin’ regard imaginable. Recruiting. Facilities. Perception. Retention – as in keeping quality coaches such as the man heading the Owls’ efforts right now, Matt Rhule.
Think about it. Think about everything that has had to happen in order for the Owls to get to this point, where they’re 7-0 and ranked and hosting No. 9 Notre Dame before a sold-out crowd, a national-TV audience in prime time with ESPN in town all weekend to, essentially, highlight their program, their school and their city.
Oh, and the stage was completely wiped clear for them, too, with the NFL franchise in town having the week off as well.
The mind boggles at the kind of other-worldly, divine-intervention, stars-aligning magnificence that took place, and that’s with not even factoring in the always-exciting, often-awkward, snatch-victories-from-the-jaws-of-defeat path Temple has taken thus far in 2015.
To think the Owls have no pressure with this game and could just step back and hit the reset button to get right back here, or to whatever “rightful place” the blinders-wearing dopes stuck in the past believe the Owls belong, should they lose is as stupid and asinine as it is to proclaim that they are guaranteed to lose.
This is a big deal for Temple. All the pressure is on the Owls, not Notre Dame.