The relevance of the Temple University football team has been on display all week as the undefeated, 21st-ranked Owls get ready to host ninth-ranked Notre Dame on Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field.
There was the announcement Monday that ESPN had chosen Philadelphia as this week’s site to broadcast their weekly and highly popular GameDay show, a week after it was announced ABC would show the matchup of ranked teams nationally on prime-time.
Then there was the large amount of local and national media descending on Edberg-Olson Hall this week to tell the story of a long moribund program that has pulled itself from the ashes a couple times.
Just over a decade ago, the viability and existence of the program was questioned. Two years ago, the Owls went 2-10 and lost to Idaho and FCS Fordham.
The spotlight has shown brightly and positively on coach Matt Rhule’s program and once GameDay has concluded its showcase on Saturday morning, the capper of a whirlwind two weeks will take place on Saturday night.
And for the Temple players who have stayed focused after beating Penn State for the first time in 74 years and who have come back three times in the fourth quarter, the game is all that matters.
The game against Notre Dame – with all the pomp and circumstance going into it – might be the biggest game in school history, but to the Temple players and coaches it’s important to concentrate simply on what it will take to win the game.
“It’s the most important game because it’s the next game,” said senior center Kyle Friend. “I said that when we played Cincinnati and I said that when we played Tulane.”
Added junior running back Jahad Thomas: “It gives us a lot of exposure, the magnitude we have reached will help us out in recruiting for the years to come. We can’t focus on that now. We have an opponent at hand.”
The motto ‘What’s next?’ has been going around the Owls’ program this year, brought about because the Owls have struggled with putting together back-to-back solid performances the last few seasons.
This year, the Owls answered every challenge and face their biggest Saturday – not only because it’s the most talented team they’ve faced but also the magnitude of the game.
“People say are you ready for the moment?” said senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich. “We’ve played in stadiums that were wild. Last week (against East Carolina) that place was rocking. It’s something we’re ready for. “
Rhule has preached enjoying the moment and knows in some ways the Owls have already gained a lot of positive attention on the program before the game is even played. Maybe most importantly, recruits can’t question whether Temple is playing big-time football.
“Temple University is an amazing place,” said Rhule. “If football can help shine a light on all the things happening at Temple, if kids in Texas and Oklahoma and people across the country can see a three-hour commercial for Temple, that’s outstanding.
“I’m really excited about recruiting. Do you know how many kids want to come to Temple? They come to campus, they love our kids, they love our coaches. But they’re saying is it really big-time? Teams in other conferences who say we’re not big-time will never win more than eight games, will never have GameDay. This just verifies everything we say. Kids that say I want to, but. … But what? Here it is.”
The biggest question for the mature Owls now is not whether they are ready for the moment but whether they are ready for the Fighting Irish’s Will Fuller, one of the country’s best receivers who played his high school ball at Philadelphia’s Roman Catholic, and explosive running back C.J. Prosise.
Can the Owls establish the run with Jahad Thomas and make big plays to Robby Anderson in the passing game against arguably the best defense they will see this season?
“Our plan is to focus on what we can control and focus on what’s next and embrace the moment,” said Rhule. “We don’t pretend it’s not here. We don’t pretend GameDay’s not coming. We don’t pretend we’re not playing Notre Dame. All those things are great. But this game has to be about us and how we play.
“I’m not concerned at all we won’t be ready to play, that the moment will be too big. We will play as good as we can play. Is it good enough? We’ll see, but we’ll be ready to play.”
GameDay, Notre Dame, a sold-out crowd and a national TV audience.
“People forget why you play football, and you play football to have fun and people get away from that in situations like this,” said Matakevich. “Really, you just enjoy it. If we stick to the game plan, we’ll be all right. Everybody is anxious to get ready to play.
“This is just special. We’ve been through it all. There’s not too many situations we haven’t been through. Two years ago we were 1-6 at this point. You don’t take anything for granted. Enjoy the moment and don’t let it get the best of you.”