Speaking of history lessons . . .
On Sept. 25 the Owls head to Penn State, a team they last celebrated against in 1941. Yet they hung for a half last September. And Joe Paterno, who was 14 in 1941, is using a true freshman at quarterback. So it would hardly constitute the greatest upset to ever happen in college football, even if the perception value would obviously be ESPN-worthy.
Still, reality suggests that the most consequential obstacle the Owls must deal with prior to October will take place tonight in South Philly. At least in terms of getting to the Mid-American Conference championship game, which remains the most tangible goal.
Central Michigan won the title last season, and three of the last four. The Chippewas are the pick to finish second in the West Division despite losing a lot, most notably quarterback Dan LeFevour and coach Butch Jones. The Owls, who are favored in the East, have to go to West favorite Northern Illinois in their next MAC game on Oct. 9. They could maybe afford to lose one or even two and make it to Detroit in early December anyway. But who really wants to be playing from behind in the standings from the outset?
"The [predictions] and all that, that's [the media's] business," said Temple coach Al Golden. "Hopefully it doesn't get into our business. The kids understand what we're trying to get done. [Being favored] means we're relevant. But that's about it.
"In terms of a resume, Central Michigan's the team to beat. That's what we aspire to be. We have a long way to go before that. It's a challenge. Obviously, MAC games count an awful lot.
"We never talk about setting the tone. There's been games where people say, 'Oh, is that going to change the program around?' No. We won the game, or we learned something. Obviously, the most important game is the next one."
In this case, it's another in the process.
"Really, it's just the next game for us," said junior defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson, who had four solo tackles in last Friday night's closing-seconds win over Villanova. "I know [CMU] will come in prepared to play against us. They're trying to win the game [too].
"Coach always tells us we have to find a way. You never know what it's going to come down to. You have to be ready to get it done."
The season might be long. Or even the month. But it's never too early.
The Wildcats have lost sophomore end Marlon Johnson, their only returning starter on the defensive line, to a season-ending knee injury suffered in the Temple loss. But at least the good news is, they had to play redshirt freshman Rakim Cox and true freshman Antoine Lewis. And they played well. Depth on both lines had been one of the few areas of concern.
"We're even more thin than we were," said coach Andy Talley, whose team now goes to Lehigh (1-0). "But maybe we found something. We're hoping. We looked at the film and went like, 'Wow.'
"We laid everything on the line emotionally. The next week, you're really suspect to an upset and so on. We've got to make sure we do a good job of getting back into the dance and playing. We haven't felt the sting of defeat that hard in a long time. We felt we played well enough to win."
It's usually an overnight trip, but the team will bus up that morning instead, because Talley wants to fly to a couple of places later. Hence the budget trade-off.