It’s Big Boy Saturday for many of the power-conference schools.
Brigham Young gets to show if it is for real at UCLA. Auburn gets to show if it is OK at LSU. Notre Dame gets to show if it is able to recover from an injury to its best player against Georgia Tech. Southern Cal gets to show if it is that damn good on offense against defensive heavyweight Stanford. Ole Miss gets to show if it is on a par, or above par, with Alabama.
Temple gets to show it is good enough now to overcome a trap game against Massachusetts.
Temple? Trap game? What?!!
Hey, as an almost-ranked team – the Owls stand 26th in the voting, just outside the AP’s top 25 poll – playing in a Group of 5 conference that allows for entry into a New Year’s Day bowl, Temple has earned some modicum of respect, and, the reality is, it needs to maintain the type of focus it has shown in order to keep it.
Wins over in-state Big Brother Penn State and American Athletic Conference favorite were nice, potentially program-building nice, in getting the Owls out of the hinterlands of the complete unknown and into college football’s recognized civilization. But they must maintain the course in order to stay there.
For all the strides Temple has made under head coach Matt Rhule in three years, it remains a work in progress that doesn’t have the luxury of falling back on its laurels should a hiccup or two arise. In order to keep the ball rolling, Temple … has to keep the ball rolling. There is no letup, no looking past an opponent, regardless of who it is or what level it plays, that the Owls can afford.
Frankly, they’re not good enough to do so, either historically or currently.
Not for nothing, but the Owls didn’t exactly grab the Bearcats by the throat and forcefeed them defeat this past Saturday. They were outgained by a near 2-to-1 margin (557 yards to 296), but proved resilient and big-play proficient in holding on for a 34-26 decision.
A week after winning the battle up front, Temple’s lines were, well, a bit embarrassed at Cincinnati. But the Owls never wavered, they never backed off, and, largely on the strength of RB Jahad Thomas’ jitterbugging hips and LB Tyler Matakevich’s sure hands, they prevailed.
They almost blew a 22-point fourth-quarter lead, but they prevailed.
Here is where they are: Good enough to beat any team on their schedule, including Notre Dame on Halloween, and uncertain enough to lose to any team on their schedule, including UMass this Saturday and Charlotte two weeks from then.
Perhaps if QB P.J. Walker consistently realized his potential the Owls could take a glance beyond their next opponent and wonder what the future may hold. Or if their other playmakers routinely performed to levels closer to those Thomas and Matakevich have. Or if their lines typically faced ones the same caliber as those belonging to Penn State.
But, really, why would they want to anyway? The whole joy of this process, this program-building process under Rhule, is being in the moment and part of that moment as it happens, and, truth is, if the Owls lost to, say, UMass or Charlotte, most of the luster would come off of those efforts that yielded a 2-0 start to this season.
Consider this: When the Owls take the field Saturday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., they’ll be facing an offense that averages almost 100 more yards per game (397 to 305) than its own does.
Make no mistake, Temple is the better team, and its being favored by 10.5 points on the road is merited. But it still can’t afford to take any team lightly.
- Jack Kerwin | firstname.lastname@example.org
Temple started its 2014 campaign 4-1, including a stunning 37-7 victory at SEC member Vanderbilt in the opener. The Owls also knocked off No. 23 East Carolina, 20-10, later in the season before suffering close losses to AAC co-champions Memphis (16-13) and Cincinnati (14-6). In other words, this season's 2-0 start shouldn't come as a total shock.