In the rich and illustrious history of major American sports teams in the city of Brotherly Love, when was the last time you could say that the best team in the area was the Temple Owls football team?
Enjoy it while it lasts, because they’re the it team in Philly. To be honest, that title could stick with them for a while.
Why so? Well, let’s count the ways. On the diamond, the Philadelphia Phillies might make history in the next couple of weeks: its first 100-loss season since 1961. On the ice, the Flyers haven’t won a playoff series since 2012 and have missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs altogether two out of the past three years. The Sixers seemingly are in Year 10 of their five-year rebuilding plan which has been known mostly for experts and fans speculating whether the front office is tanking seasons. (Not just one season. Seasons!) Oh, and then there’s the Philadelphia Eagles, a subject which might be the sorest of sore spots for fans in Philly right now after their disastrous 0-2 start.
Even Villanova basketball, the power in the Big East Conference and a team consistently ranked in the Top 20 in national polls, manages to consistently turn excellent regular-seasons into ignominious early-round exits in the NCAA Tournament.
So where do Philly fans turn to? Well, there’s a football team from a school in North Philadelphia who plays its home games in South Philadelphia that isn’t too shabby. That’s the Temple Owls, who have started the season 3-0 for the first time since 2010. One of their wins came in the season opener against traditional Keystone State power Penn State, as they turned an early 10-0 deficit and imminent obliteration at the hands of the Nittany Lions into 27 unanswered points and a historic, runaway 27-10 triumph. They have legitimate star power in senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich, who led the NCAA in solo tackles per game in 2013. All he did in that opener against Penn State was record three of the Owls’ 10 sacks. It’s almost without a doubt that he’ll be playing on Sundays next year, and a few other players on the roster have the talent to make it into the league before too long.
But what occurred last Saturday in Foxboro, Mass. may turn out to be the ultimate sign that this year is their year to put a bow on the complete reversal of fortune with the program. While holding on to a 20-17 lead and trying to run out the clock, running back Jahad Thomas fumbled, with UMass recovering the ball at its 41 with 2:45 remaining. Not only did the Minutemen gain a new lease on life, they marched down the field 59 yards on eight plays, scoring on a 16-yard TD pass to take a 23-20 lead with 1:25 left in regulation.
But on the ensuing extra point, Temple not only blocked the kick, but Will Hayes returned the loose ball all the way to the other end zone for a two-point conversion, cutting UMass’ lead to one. Instead of needing a touchdown to win if the extra point was good or needing a field goal just to tie if the kick missed (and not returned for two), a field goal would win the game for the Owls. Quarterback P.J. Walker led the last-second comeback, completing 6-for-9 passes for 50 yards on the drive, including two third-down completions to John Christopher, the second of which for 12 yards to get Temple to the UMass 15-yard line with 12 seconds left.
In stepped kicker Austin Jones, who was so spotty in his freshman season last year that Temple coach Matt Rhule would frequently keep his offense in on fourth-down plays despite being in reasonable field goal range. But this year, he’s been perfect, and his 32-yard field goal bisected the Gillette Stadium uprights, giving Temple the expected, yet unlikely, victory. No, it wasn’t like beating a ranked team, like they did last year when they upset East Carolina. (We were there for it!) But wins like the one last Saturday, and the manner that it came in, can be as much of a watershed moment as any other.
Just like Rocky, Philly sports fans definitely can get behind an underdog. We all know what Temple football had been for a quarter century before Al Golden got there in 2006. It was so bad that the Big East Conference expelled them from its league in 2004 after years of fecklessness with the team and its program. They might be the ultimate rags-to-riches story, especially if they were to somehow defeat Notre Dame in Philadelphia on Halloween. Rudy may have nothing on the Temple Owls of 2015.
But maybe they’re not underdogs after all, as their schedule in the American Athletic Conference, especially after their road win in Cincinnati in Week 2, looks to be more than navigable, despite the traps usually lying in wait in conference play. Despite that, the nation has noticed Temple’s improved play, and their exploits have reached the desk of ESPN’s College GameDay, where analyst Kirk Herbstreit said on last week’s show that the Owls have a chance to run the table this season.
Are you sure we’re talking about Temple football? Indeed we are, and it very well is the best thing Philadelphia sports has going on right now.
The seven underdogs who make up the A Lot of Sports Talk 2015 College Football Poll panel never give up the fight, even when the chips are down and hope seems lost. If you need names of these fighters who contribute their polls to make up the aggregate poll every week, here they are: T.J. Basalla (super fan, marketing professional based in Ohio), Evie Van Pelt (managing editor at The Rebel Walk Magazine), Basil Mitchell (former TCU and Green Bay Packers RB), Sandy Weintraub (super fan, Director of Student Conduct and Community Standards at the University of Oregon), Nick Mancuso (patent attorney who attended USC as an undergrad and Oregon for law school), Adesina Koiki (Football Writers Association of America member/voter, A Lot Of Sports Talk editor-in-chief) and an anonymous football staff member at a Division II school who once coached at the FBS level.
Here is ALOST‘s 2015 College Football Top 25 for Week 3. If you have any comments and/or complaints, write them below on the Facebook window or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you.
OSU looked mortal in its 20-13 win over Northern Illinois — enough to drop the Buckeyes out of the top spot in my poll. Besides, their SOS for their remaining games, according to the ESPN Football Power Index, is a pathetic No. 60. (Evie Van Pelt)
This is a solid team on both sides of the ball that will probably lose one game this season – and probably won’t be in the playoff. #CollegeFootballDivisionsAreStupid. (Sandy Weintraub)
With Texas Tech looking impressive last week in its win last week at Arkansas, an already tricky trip to Lubbock just got a whole lot hairier for the Horned Frogs. (Adesina Koiki)
The Rebels went into Tuscaloosa like a wrecking ball. For beating the Crimson Tide at home (‘Bama’s first loss at home since 2012) and for looking like a machine on both sides of the ball, Ole Miss moves to the top of my list. (Evie)
I’m still debating whether to use the word “dominate” or “survive” when describing the Rebels’ win over Alabama. (T.J. Basalla)
Passing game coordinator Jeff Lebby was spotted on the Tulsa sideline during the Tulsa-Oklahoma game last week, a violation of NCAA rules since Baylor and Oklahoma meet later this year. Despite how harmless this actually was, it’s not a good look, and it takes away from the team that may prove to be a special one in Waco. (Adesina)
The SEC East is exceptionally weak, and the Bulldogs are going to steamroll through it. When its all said and done, this might be the survivor in a SEC that isn’t as good as in the past, but will inevitably still send a team to the playoff. (Sandy)
I guess Leonard Fournette was worth all the recruiting hype. (T.J.)
First-ever collegiate road game should be an interesting test for true freshman QB Josh Rosen. The defense has been the strength of this team, though three starters are now out for the season due to injury. The unit will be severely tested this Saturday in Tucson. (Sandy)
Don’t let the final score fool you: Notre Dame dominated the Yellow Jackets last Saturday. (T.J.)
Another week, another win and another season-ending injury to another key Irish player. This time, it’s safety Drue Tranquill, who tore his ACL after landing awkwardly during a celebratory chest bump. It’s a shame that Notre Dame wins are constantly being overshadowed by its litany of injuries to key players. (Adesina)
How about this for fortunate scheduling: after Clemson’s game – and win – against Louisville last Thursday, the Tigers go on a bye this weekend, and that is followed by three consecutive home games. (Adesina)
Good news: Florida State’s defense is as stingy as advertised, as it shut out Boston College last week. Bad news: their offense is definitely a work in progress still, and it might take a while for it to fire on all cylinders…if it even does at all. (Adesina)
Remember the spotty play at the quarterback position that plagued the Sooners all year long in 2014? After Baker Mayfield’s school-record 572 yards of total offense last week vs. Tulsa, on the heels of his efforts in a come-from-behind win at Tennessee the weekend before that, consider quarterback play in Norman a non-issue in 2015. (Adesina)
The Aggies are tough to figure out because they haven’t played anyone yet. We’ll know more about Sumlin, Chavis and Co. after this weekend’s matchup with an Arkansas team that is struggling. Then again, maybe we won’t. (Evie)
Their secondary needs to figure out what it’s doing – and fast – as conference play begins. (Nick Mancuso)
The Tide stayed in my Top 10 because they fought hard and lost to one of the nation’s best teams by just six points. (Evie)
I happen to agree that Alabama is a Top 10 team still….IF you don’t account for the quarterback position. Therein lies why Alabama isn’t in my Top 10. The ability of Jake Coker to come through in big games in the SEC will be a big question all season long. (Adesina)
Smart kids! Smart kids! Smart kids! (T.J.)
The country seems to have forgotten how dynamic a RichRod offense is when staffed by a veteran QB and talented skill players. This is a dangerous team that should have a great chance to be in the driver’s seat in the Pac-12 South with a win on Saturday. (Sandy)
Great litmus test coming up at Autzen on Saturday night for the Utes. Don’t forget that Utah seemed to have the Ducks on the ropes in SLC last year before it all came crumbling down after Kaelin Clay’s goal-line gaffe. The Utes certainly remember and will come prepared to face an Oregon team with serious QB questions. (Sandy)
The Ramblin’ Wreck could easily go from being on the verge of the Top 10 to having a two-game losing skid if they don’t bring their best against a stout Blue Devils’ defense in Durham. (Adesina)
David Shaw is back to his old ground-and-pound tricks as the Cardinal continued their recent domination of USC at The Coliseum. (Sandy)
Steve Sarkisian, meet the hot seat. Hot seat, meet Steve. You two might be best friends before the year is over. (Adesina)
Well, it was fun while it lasted. The magic ran out on Tanner Mangum and the Cougars in Los Angeles in a one-point loss to UCLA. But they can create more magic this week in Ann Arbor, as BYU’s tough opening stretch of games continues against Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines. (Adesina)
Two weeks ago, Oklahoma State would have been predicted to dehorn Texas in Austin. But after Longhorns QB Jerrod Heard had a dynamic coming-out party in last week’s close loss vs. Cal, this game all of a sudden has a whole lot more intrigue . (Adesina)
Flying under the radar for the first few weeks, the Mountaineers now can make more noise on the national stage when they welcome their rivals from College Park this weekend. (Adesina)
So the Tigers followed up an unconvincing win against Arkansas State with another eyesore of a win, defeating Connecticut 9-6 after the Huskies threw an interception on a fake field-goal attempt late in the fourth quarter. But, once again, if you keep winning, who really needs style points in the process?!? (Adesina)
Others receiving votes:
California (10 points), Tennessee (10), Wisconsin (9), Florida (8), Houston (7), Temple (7), Toledo (6), Miami (6), Arizona State (5), Mississippi State (3), Kansas State (2), Minnesota (1)
* – To break ties, we used a three-step criteria; 1) higher number of first-place votes, 2) higher number of ballots (out of six) the teams appeared in, 3) highest single ranking by an individual pollster (e.g. if Team A and Team B are tied cumulatively and appeared in all six polls, but Team A’s highest ranking by an individual pollster was No. 7 and Team B’s highest ranking by an individual pollster was No. 9, Team A wins tiebreaker)
[Cover photo (Temple Owls team) courtesy of Mitchell Leff/Getty Images]