Tomorrow afternoon first-year coach Matt Rhule will get his third such opportunity when No. 17 Central Florida (7-1, 4-0 AAC) makes its first visit to South Philly. The Owls (1-8, 0-5) have already lost at No. 14 Notre Dame (28-6) and at home to No. 7 Louisville (30-7). They're coming off a bye, after losing on a long late pass at Rutgers, their third loss by three points or less (and second on a last-second desperation heave). The Houston game was also a two-pointer until the final minute.
A win over UCF would go a long way toward erasing a lot of forgettable snapshots. Just like Virginia Tech obviously became what many people remembered most about '98.
"We're really ready for a big win," said senior wideout Ryan Alderman. "We're just looking to make some noise, with what we have left."
After this they'll get winless Connecticut at the Linc before closing at 2-6 Memphis.
They've looked noticeably different the last month, particularly on offense, where true freshman P.J. Walker has become entrenched as the starting quarterback. Still, 1-8 is 1-8. The offseason figures to feel at least a little better if they can get another win or two. That doesn't seem unreasonable, even if they're understandably a 16-point underdog in this spot.
"It's absolutely been frustrating," said Rhule. "But they've been a fun team to coach. That might sound crazy, based upon the record, but they came to play every week and they've gotten better every week. I [hear] that a lot. I think people appreciate that.
"It's winning time now. They've learned all the other lessons. Now they have to find a way."
In at least one of these remaining weeks.
Central Florida at Temple
Saturday, Noon, Lincoln Financial Field
Radio: WPHT (1210-AM)
Records: UCF 7-1, 4-0 AAC; Temple 1-8, 0-5
History: First meeting.
About Central Florida: Knights are ranked 17th, coming off 19-14 win over 7-2 Houston ... Only loss was at home in late September to 7-2 South Carolina, by three ... Blake Bortles one of the more underrated QBs ... Storm Johnson leads AAC in TDs, with nine rushing and three receiving ... Shawn Moffitt has made 11 of 12 field goals ... They’ve converted 50 of 99 third downs ... They are seventh in nation in red-zone defense, 12th in scoring defense.
About the Owls: Had last week off after losing on a last-second pass at Rutgers, the second time that’s happened to them this season ... True freshman QB P.J. Walker has made a difference since he became the starter four games ago. But it still hasn’t been quite enough ... LB Tyler Matakevich has 113 tackles ... They won their last home game, Oct. 19 against Army ... Next week they host winless Connecticut.
Most years, Penn-Harvard means everything in the Ivy League. Not this year, although it could still mean something.
Princeton (7-1, 5-0) has beaten both of them. The Quakers (4-4, 3-2) have to win out, starting tomorrow at Harvard (7-1, 4-1), and hope the Tigers lose twice. It's improbable, but stranger stuff has probably happened.
Only one thing is certain: If the Quakers lose their third straight league game, something that hasn't happened in 7 years, they are officially done. And they've only won once at Harvard in the last four tries.
On paper, Al Bagnoli said this might have been his best team in the last decade. But the Quakers have been hit hard by injuries. Of course he understands that nobody wants to hear that.
"We're just not whole," he said. "There's so many moving parts right now. I'm proud of the effort. They really played hard [last week against Princeton]. I'm not sure what the right answer is. They're tough kids. They tried to gut it out. It wasn't quite enough. I've not had to face this kind of adversity in I can't remember when. We're just not fluid enough to get consistent football. All you can do is ask the next guy up to step in there. That's the issue we're dealing with.
"[The full potential] didn't materialize, for a variety of reasons. It becomes problematic."
Still, it's Penn-Harvard. And there's still some reason to keep believing.
"It's turned into a really good rivalry," Bagnoli said. "Week nine has been huge. I think it's come down to this 11 of the last 14 years [and last five]. So it's a huge deal, even though maybe it's not the same."
For the first time in a while, the Quakers don't control their own destiny at this point in the season. But beating Harvard is never a minor thing.
Penn at Harvard
Saturday, Noon, Harvard Stadium, Cambridge, Mass.
TV: NBC Sports.
Radio: WFIL (560-AM)
Records: Penn 4-4, 3-2 Ivy; Harvard 7-1, 4-1
History: Harvard leads, 46-35-2. Penn has won three of the last four, but Harvard has won three of the last four up there.
About Penn: Quakers, who are banged up, lost at home to first-place Princeton, 38-26, after leading 16-0 ... Still could tie for title, but a lot of things have to happen ... Last week was first time in seven games that they scored first ... Haven’t lost three straight in the league since 2006 ... Billy Ragone third in program history with 5,000 passing yards ... They have committed the second-most turnovers in league ... Next week they close with Cornell at home.
About Harvard: Crimson’s only loss was at home to Princeton late last month, in three OTs ... They won at Columbia last week, 34-0 ... Third in FCS in turnover margin (plus 1.3) ... Balanced attack averages 37 points ... Rushing defense is sixth-best in FCS ... Paul Stanton averages 6.3 yards a carry ... Lead nation in punt returns.