Villanova and Temple kick off another football season

Posted: August 31, 2012

TEMPLE and Villanova played each other in football every year from 1933 to '43, each time at Temple Stadium. The series resumed in 1970 and continued until Villanova dropped the sport a decade later. Five of those games were at Villanova Stadium, four at the Vet. Tonight, they'll meet again, in the fourth annual Mayor's Cup. It's their fifth meeting since 2003, all at the Linc. The next one has yet to be scheduled.

Next year, the Owls will open at Notre Dame, which seems like a pretty decent alternative, while Villanova goes to Pitt. In 2014 and '15, the Wildcats' FBS opponents are Connecticut and Syracuse, which like Pitt is moving from the Big East to the ACC after this season.

Since 1988, Villanova has played 16 games against FBS competition. The Wildcats beat Rutgers once (2002) and Temple twice (2003, '09). Four others were decided by seven points or less, including the Temple matchup 2 years ago.

There's every chance these city rivals could one day find a way to get together again. Or maybe even at some point the Big East will once again need to add a school and Villanova will still want to move up a level.

At this point there's only one certainty: For now, this is it.

A year ago, a veteran group of Owls, which would go on to win a bowl for the first time in 32 years, had its way against a Wildcat team in transition, 42-7. This time, Temple, which is back in the Big East for the first time in eight seasons, is the side that has to do a bunch of replenishing.

For coach Steve Addazio, who went 9-4 in his debut in 2011, it wouldn't really matter if he was playing Alabama or Prairie View.

"We just want to win the game," he said. "Forget all the other stuff. Somehow, someway, we need to come out with one more point and be 1-0. That's all. I don't care what the game looks like, as long as we win. That's my expectation. There's going to be ebbs and flows, some good things and bad. But at the end, we want to go sing the fight song in the locker room.

"There'll be 60 teams that'll be 1-0, and 60 teams that'll be 0-1. We need to be one of the 60 that's 1-0. It's tough to win Division I games . . . Here's our focus: Win your opener, and once you do that get bowl eligible, then go from there."

Since the Owls were picked to finish last in the conference, that seems reasonable enough. Everyone has to start somewhere. The obvious reality is that Temple has a lot more to lose in this situation than the Wildcats, just because. Still, it does ensure that some 30,000 bodies will show up to watch, which can never be a minor consideration.

"People have great passion on both sides," Addazio said. "That makes for good college football to me."

His Villanova counterpart, Andy Talley, would heartily concur. Even if he's not supposed to come out on top.

"It's a chance for our kids to step up and prove something," he said. "There's no travel for us, and it's the biggest crowd we'll play in front of. It's Temple's second-largest draw behind Penn State. So I think that's nice for their kids, too.

"We've always been pretty realistic. I think we're ready for the challenge. We know they're bigger, faster and stronger, and that they'll play 60 kids to our 35. Those are tough odds, but we've done it before. It's part of the drill.

"We go in with that David vs. Goliath theory. The thing that's changed is Temple. They're not struggling anymore. That's the difference. But I'd rather play them, get on a bus and drive 30 minutes to a beautiful stadium in our hometown, as opposed to getting on an airplane and playing in front of maybe 20,000 people who could care less. This is cheesesteaks and hoagies and all that on the line."

The Wildcats, picked to finish eighth in the Colonial Athletic Association, return virtually intact. The flip side of that, of course, is they're coming off 2-9. And they've already been hit with a few personnel losses in key spots. But the word is they'll show up anyway.

"It's about pride," said senior defensive back Ronnie Akins. "When you're the underdog, nobody really expects you to do much. It'll be intense. I feel like they've looked by us in the past. Now that they're in the Big East . . . "

It's one game, merely the beginning of a 3-month story line that also figures to contain ebbs and flows. Both teams will tackle more important games ahead. But the opening act is, well, always enticing.

Particularly when there's proximity involved.

"The first game, you try not to get overwhelmed," said fifth-year wide receiver Norman White, who missed last season with a foot injury after putting up big-time numbers in 2010. "There's going to be a lot of things thrown at you. You just have to calm down and have fun. It should be exciting. But you have to stay disciplined, try not to do too much. Just do your job. If you handle that, everything will fall into place.

"We always think we can win. Last year was last year. But it probably did leave a chip on our shoulder."

Really, would they rather have it any other way?


Contact Mike Kern at kernm@phillynews.com.

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