1. While hailing my one alma mater, I’ve been a bit neglectful of what my other one did last week. In an amazing “stay the course” showing, Illinois somehow managed to withstand its head coach of three years being dismissed just a week before the opener and then roll up a 52-3 victory in that opener. Granted, the Illini faced Kent State, but they looked, well, legit – especially in the speed department. So much so that experts, even those on the Big Ten Network, are touting their chances to challenge in the B1G West division. Gotta give props to interim HC Bill Cubit – unless all the good vibes depart this week against Western Illinois.
2. Wouldn’t surprise me if the fortunes of Utah and Michigan switch this week following last week’s Utes win over the Jimmy Jaws in Salt Lake City. Now ranked, Utah hosts a dangerous foe in state rival Utah State Friday night, and won’t have the “savoir leading the nation’s most overrated program back to a high level, not quite as high as Ohio State, and certainly not as high as a quality SEC program, but high” silliness weighing down the opposition. Meanwhile, the savior, Jim Harbaugh, has his troops hosting Oregon State before 100K-plus Love-Jimmy-ites. Should be fun.
3. In a fitting tribute to Temple’s historic victory last Saturday leading into this Saturday night’s crucial AAC showdown in Cincinnati, the Philly Inky highlighted the top games in college football this week … and left the hometown Owls’ matchup with the conference favorite Bearcats off the list. Never mind that USA Today had that one as No. 5 in the nation. Classic Philly media. Almost surprising it didn’t have West Chester or Villanova on its list, or, of course, that biggie for Penn State, against Buffalo.
4. Tim Tebow got axed by the Philadelphia Eagles, thus ending his NFL dream – for now. Again. However, that hasn’t stopped Florida’s favorite son from landing back in the national eye. As an analyst on the SEC Network. Again. Starting to see a pattern here, but the primary positive about it is, Tebow proved himself to be a likeable, quality TV face last season and appears to have a good future in that field if he chooses to remain in it. He’ll be joining the crew immediately.
5. Not sure why, but I’m not entirely “pumped” about the top-10 battle between Oregon and Michigan State Saturday night in Lansing, Mich. Perhaps it’s this underlying issue in the gut that tells me neither is their respective conference’s top team, or that Spartans appear incredibly vulnerable after kinda struggling a bit last week to beat Western Michigan. Also, the Ducks and their unis bore me.
6. Frankly, I’ll take the other two games with ranked teams squaring off as “ones to watch.” No. 14 LSU at No. 25 Mississippi State, in a ridiculously early SEC West showdown, is straight-out quality, and will be interesting to see if the latter’s 2014 campaign was a fluke or start of something special. Would love No. 23 Tennessee, hosting No. 19 Oklahoma, showing its back – for real – in the other.
7. Danger spot for FCS power Villanova, which lost last week at FBS lightweight Connecticut, heading to Fordham Saturday night. The Rams not only have revenge in mind for last season’s 50-6 embarrassment on Philly’s Main Line, but they’re a quality FCS operation, having won 23 games combined in 2013 and ’14 and just beaten FBS outfit Army on the road.
8. Think your team has it tough? Consider Virginia. The Wahoos get picked apart last week by UCLA freshman sensation Josh Rosen in his first start as a college QB and their, umm, reprieve this week is to host No. 9 Notre Dame and early Heisman front-runner Malik Zaire. Ouch.
Maybe this is it.
The shackles have come off. The restrictions, real or imagined, have ceased. The path, finally, has cleared. Where Temple University football goes from here, well, it’s strictly up to it – its players, its coaches, its administrators.
No excuses. No emotional road blocks. No more proclamations by outsiders, including those with connections to the school but none to the program, about the Owls needing to drop down a level in the sport or drop out entirely that get heard, gain momentum and pushed as the “right thing” to do.
By exorcising the 74-year-old demon that was far more than just a lifetime of failure against ever-popular Big Brother last weekend, the Owls, once and for all, can claim whatever success they achieve from this point on as their own without the ever-present asterisk attached, asking, “yeah, but did they beat Penn State?”
No matter what this edition of Owls do from this point on, they can place their own disclaimer out there for all to see before any such silliness pops rears its ridiculous head: Yeah, we did … so don’t even bother asking.
Considering the path head coach Matt Rhule appears to have Temple on, the program’s members may not have to worry about any asterisks for a while. The Owls are good, legitimately good, and they got that way in pretty quick fashion once Rhule returned to North Broad from a year’s stay as an offensive assistant with the New York Giants to take Temple’s reins prior to the 2013 campaign.
Two wins his first season, six his second and, to kick off his third, the Owls ended a 31-game losing streak to Penn State, Rhule’s alma mater, that would have been a 38-gamer if not for 1950’s 7-7 tie in State College. Just 25 games into his tenure, Rhule has done something none of his predecessors, not Al Golden, another former Penn Stater who gave Rhule a six-year chance to prove himself as an Owls assistant, not even the great Wayne Hardin, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, were able to do – detach Temple from being Penn State’s ultimate security blanket.
No matter how bad things got for the Nittany Lions or their fans, they always could turn to the Owls for comfort. Oh, it didn’t happen every year, and the Blue & White crowd didn’t exactly need a pick-me-up every year, either, but whenever it did, the “well, we still got Temple” served as elixir to whatever ailed them.
For Temple, that had to end if it was going to get anywhere in the college football landscape. Frankly, it probably had to end for Penn State, too, but that’s a separate psychological study for another day. Right here, right now, this is the Owls’ time to strike, and they couldn’t have picked a better way to get that started.
They are a program on the rise, at least potentially so. They play in a good league; not great (yet), but certainly good enough to get them noticed if they do, indeed, legitimately rise.
They have quality players, even beyond the two most ballyhooed in linebacker Tyler Matakevich and center Kyle Friend, whose individual talents will gain favor with the media, and, thus, bring attention to the program.
They have an incredible home schedule that taps into the double-whammy of “subway alumni” allegiance by those residing in the Philly region to Penn State and Notre Dame – with, as noted here, one history-making victory against the initial half of that already in the books – to pack Lincoln Financial Field.
Most of all, they have Rhule, who has made believers out of everyone from fans to foes, and, most of all, possibly the hardest of sells, those actually in the program.
Thing is, beating Penn State, the 2015 edition of it, was not a great victory for this year’s Owls, with regard to what they do this year. The opposition, on the field, and the stakes, in the standings, jump exponentially this Saturday night in Cincinnati. Not only do they face the American Athletic Conference favorites in the Bearcats, but a better, more talented team than the Lions. Also one that maybe has a better coach, too.
If the know-it-alls out there think PSU is the apex of Temple’s tasks, then they obviously haven’t seen Gunner Kiel deliver a pass downfield, or taken a glance at the national rankings in the past few years.
Temple, in reality, has had much bigger wins than last week’s. Frankly, the Owls have topped a handful of ranked foes in my lifetime, including last season when No. 21 East Carolina invaded rainy Lincoln Financial Field and fell 20-10. All those teams were better than these Lions.
The Owls have been to a pair of bowl games in the past decade, winning one, and qualified for another, too.
Heck, that streak to PSU could have, if not should have, snapped more than once in my lifetime, considering the 1975 and ’76 contests were decided by one point each, and the 1985 game ended 27-25 in the Lions’ favor with two future first-round draft picks, lineman John Rienstra and Heisman runner-up running back Paul Palmer, suiting up for Temple’s offense.
The Owls also flopped in the 2011 affair. They were better. But, even with future Super Bowl champion running back Bernard Pierce, they got bottled up, then tightened up and, ultimately, failed when PSU scored with two minutes and change remaining to win 14-10.
Yeah, beating Penn State had to happen for Temple to move on to new levels. It was a barrier that, for many, seemed impossible to clear. But now it has been, and the opportunity for more, much more, presents itself to the Owls.
We should have a better idea Saturday night if they’re prepared to take advantage.
- Jack Kerwin | firstname.lastname@example.org