AROUND THE NATION
COMING UP B1G: Not only do Ohio State and Michigan State hold sway atop the national polls, and rightfully so, but “Heavy D” Northwestern has proven itself worthy of top-20 mention, and, frankly, so has Iowa even though it hasn’t received it yet. Wisconsin is ranked again, too.
Really, though, the strength of the conference is seen in the firepower of its two best teams, not to mention the nation’s two best teams, and the evolution of both the Wildcats and Hawkeyes as legitimate contenders in the circuit’s West division. Even as an Illinois alum, I often love what Pat Fitzgerald gets out of his Northwestern squads. They’re always tough, even when they’re outmanned, and when the Wildcats get a defense, whooo boy, they can hang with anyone, anytime. Just ask Stanford and Duke.
Iowa is more of an enigmatic option. The Hawks are more talented than, say, Northwestern, but they don’t necessarily play as well, and certainly not on defense, relying much more heavily on the athletic and leadership talents of QB C.J. Beathard. He was good, and at times great, again in the thrilling, last-second 27-24 win against previously unbeaten Pitt.
Oh, and Michigan seems to have righted its ship under captain Jim Harbaugh, too. Watch out, SEC.
POLE VAULTER: Well, maybe not all of the SEC should feel endangered just yet. Ole Miss jumped 12 spots in the latest AP rankings, standing at No. 3 right behind Ohio State and Michigan State after toppling then-No. 2 Alabama, 43-37, in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Saturday night.
Not sure I see the arm strength with Rebs QB Chad Kelly that ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit does, but the guy has talent, and the defense Hugh Freeze is able to run out there takes a back seat to no one in terms of ability and speed. That being said, not really feeling an unbeaten run through the SEC by Ole Miss, especially with a visit to insanely overlooked and disrespected Florida in two weeks.
CONTENDER TO PRETENDER: Had the feeling two ranked squads out West would find themselves bounced from the playoff picture this weekend, but wasn’t getting a strong vibe about either – so I picked one, then-No. 19 Brigham Young going down at UCLA … which did happen. But just barely, 24-23.
Honestly, had my thinking cap been screwed on tight, I would’ve hopped all over then-No. 6 Southern Cal stumbling against Stanford, not so much because the Trojans were frauds but because the Cardinal were, and are, not. They just had the misfortune of facing Northwestern to start the season, on the road.
SORRY, NOT SORRY: I’m not a fan of anyone suffering injuries at any time, so I don’t exactly revel in watching a player go down during the course of a game. But, gotta say, I’m not in heavy remorse over Notre Dame safety Drue Tranquill enduring a torn ACL while landing awkwardly after celebrating a play.
This isn’t a condemnation of kids showing excessive emotion. My issue is in not realizing where you are, and doing something completely unnecessary and stupid that could alter your life plans. Word to the wise: Don’t ever chest-bump on turf. Grass, OK. Turf, no way. It is death to the knees.
FOOT IN MOUTH … AGAIN: Granted, I get Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury’s frustration with hearing the seemingly never-ending quote machine that is Bret Bielema ruffle everyone’s feathers with his ill-conceived “wisdom.” But don’t stoop to the same level as the guy after beating his Arkansas squad.
It won’t be any surprise when the football gods deliver K2 the same kind of penance handed down to Bielema already this season for his blowhard shenanigans.
It was a fascinating study in role reversal.
If anything screamed out during Saturday’s shaky affair at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., where Temple University’s football team eked out a 25-23 nonconference win against a new foe, Massachusetts, from a former allegiance, Mid-American, it was this:
Owls fans have seen it before. Many times. Only Temple wasn’t in the position of underdog having its heart ripped out. Its opponent was.
That’s the thing. Everything about the game reeked “familiar.” Close. Sloppy. All-out effort on one side. Something far less from the other. If effort and fairness ruled the football universe there would be little doubt as to which would be anointed the victor.
Every single thing seemed a reminder of all those tough-luck losses, the ones that led to condescending pats on the back from the winners, soon followed by the snickers acknowledging that “things will never change” no matter how much work is put in, no matter how hard a team plays, to change the seemingly birthright-given fortunes.
Apparently, though, Temple’s have, and Saturday’s performance seemed to shed a little light on that, perhaps even more so than season-starting eye-openers against Penn State and Cincinnati that paved the way to the Owls’ spotless record three weeks into the 2015 college football season.
Yeah, it was wonderful to see them finally snap the winless skid against Penn State. Failing for 74 years obliterated any and all statutes of limitations many times over. Beating Cincy was an even bigger deal, since the Bearcats, frankly, have more talent and were the legitimate favorite to win the American Athletic Conference to which Temple now proudly belongs.
But playing poorly, if not lifelessly, and still having enough to upend a lesser foe that, really, carried the proceedings all afternoon by giving every ounce it had all afternoon, on the road to boot? Nah, that’s taking things to another level altogether.
Some may point to that being the sign of a good team. Me? I’m thinking more along the lines of the football gods finally have an affinity for what is going on with Matt Rhule and Co. along North Broad ... and, not for nothing, having a bye week after starting 3-0, with a chance to tidy up that oil leakage beginning to show against UMass, that's just another positive, "they're smiling down on us" sign.
For those of us who grew up in Pennsylvania, but didn’t grow up worshipping at the feet of Joe Paterno, or the holier-than-thou words stated about him by loyal, star-struck media members, Penn State cornered the market on winning despite being beaten. Even for those with a healthy respect for the program and its success, it was maddening to watch the Lions – whether they had a great team or a mediocre one – snatch victories from the jaws of deserved defeat so routinely.
Especially when any of those games involved the Owls, or the team representing my other alma mater, Illinois. Don’t think I forgot that ridiculous 1994 rally, PSU.
Point is, Temple clearly has turned a corner here. Quickly.
Under Rhule’s reign, they’ve gone from 2 wins to 6 wins to … well, it’s starting to look like something really special. It’s not just the wins, either. The Owls are solid, top to bottom. Even the administration overseeing all things that the football program does, including by Rhule, has a better grasp of what it takes to get things done at this level – if success is the main objective.
A win like Saturday’s never would have occurred in Temple’s past. Not in my lifetime at least. The Owls never held the favorite role before and performed it so lackadaisical en route to winning. It was like Temple “Penn Stated” UMass in this one: show up with minimal respect for the opposition, putter along for about 58 minutes and then stumble into enough positives in the final two for the win.
It was an ugly win, and yet glorious at the same time.
Temple, as a program, has met the football gods’ approval, and benefited from that. Finally.
Now, if the Owls can crack the national polls, watch out.
- Jack Kerwin | firstname.lastname@example.org