The college football season kicks off tonight, and the MAC takes center stage with four games. All but one of these games is against a team from the Football Championship Subdivision, and so chances are that the league will come away with at least three wins tonight (mostly because Ball State doesn't play).
The earliest game on the schedule features the battle for the Mayor's Cup in Philadelphia between the Villanova Wildcats and the Temple Owls.
Nova received an invitation to join the Big East over the offseason, but because there were questions about where it would play its home games (the current Villanova Stadium doesn't seat the required number of fans), the Cats missed the deadline to officially apply and begin the transition. This first game of the year which the two teams have split over the past two season has become a measuring stick for just how good Villanova is compared to the teams the next league up.
To preview this game, Geeves and I sat down for a short conversation (as if we truly knew anything) and provide some annotation to keep you the fans up on the relevant information (as if we again truly knew anything).
bmiraski: It's going to be a little bit of a downer game because Villanova lost a bunch of players to graduation - but it's still the only measuring stick it has from season to season.
Geeves: I feel weird to say this, but graduation shmaduation. It's still ‘Nova. They're seriously considering the leap to FBS for a reason.
[Nova didn't just lose a lot to graduation, they pretty much have a brand new team when it comes to production. In the FCS, they ranked 123rd in terms of returning rushing, passing, and receiving yards, and tackles from the top 22 defensive players. The Wildcats will have a new quarterback (the three on the roster have a total of six career passing attempts), and have to replace 86 percent of their yards on the ground from last year. The defense is a little better, but they lost 61 percent of their tackles to graduation.]
bmiraski: I know - and it is still Temple. Post-Al Golden Temple. Maybe he will call in plays from Miami.
[Temple was 3-31 in the three season prior to Al Golden taking over. And they were kicked out of the Big East. Just in case you weren't following along at home.]
Geeves: Might as well. Not like he has any eligible players to coach right now.
bmiraski: Villanova's best receiver/ Wildcat QB from last year (Matt Szczur) is playing in the Cubs farm system. Oh, and he is like 5-8 - Temple's kicker is taller than him by four inches.
Geeves: Yeah, I vaguely remember watching him. In the FBS playoffs against EWU, on that hideously blazing red field. Freaking Jeff Samardzjia, Jr.
[Geeves is right that his memories are vague. Szczur was a focus of the Eastern Washington defense and only managed 36 yards rushing and 25 yards receiving in the game. He left in the fourth quarter with a concussion, which should help him forget the madness of the red field.]
bmiraski: I mean, he couldn't play this year, not even if he were enrolled at Alabama where it sometimes takes 6 years. Or Bowling Green (sorry Suss).
Geeves: Low blow. No hitting below the Falcon,
bmiraski: Is it an EcoFalcon?
Geeves: No, maltese.
bmiraski: Spoiler: It is not actually gold under the black paint. And Rosebud is a sled.
Geeves: That sounds a lot like Ball State's season. No, this is not a diamond in the rough, and no, we're really not that mysterious.
[We kid because we love.]
bmiraski: I looked up the line, since Danny "I have an inside source at the NCAA" Sheridan doesn't make lines on body bag games. Temple -6.5; how is that possible? Nova loses everyone... Temple loses a coach.
Geeves: Yeah. Well, I don't think they really know how much of their improvement is Al's doing.
bmiraski: If Temple had hired Bill Cosby, I bet they would be favored by more
Geeves: No, half their defensive starters got drafted, remember? And their offense...well, played like Bill Cosby.
[The offense wasn't that bad. It was just middle of the road in the MAC. With so many returning players, the offense should be just fine, part of the reason why Temple is expected to contend in the East. The line opened at 5 and moved to 6.5 mostly because anyone actually betting on the game thought the same thing our two chatters did: Villanova is not the same team that won the championship in 2009, nor game the Owls a run for their money last season.]
bmiraski: This is still Villanova, whose entire defense graduated, and their top four running backs. Who do they think is going to be carrying the ball against the Owls?
bmiraski: Temple has a massive offense. They should have no problem bowling over the pretty boys from the ‘burbs. Heck, those kids are probably shaking just from having to take the bus into Temple. Have you ever been to Temple?
Geeves: Yeah, when i decided not to attend graduate school there.
[Interesting note: the first meeting between the Villanova and Temple took place in 1908, in a location so secretive that no one knows where the game was held. At least someone remembered the score; Villanova won 12-0.]
Geeves: Did you really just say that temple has a "massive" offense?
bmiraski: Yes, massive. The line averages 320 pounds. Cheesesteaks Geeves, cheesesteaks.
Geeves: Oh, physically. I thought you were referring to ability. (My exes have often made a similar mistake...mistake....steak....cheesesteak...mmm)
bmiraski: I guess they luck out that the game is not on campus at Temple. It's really at the "Linc." Not that parts of South Philly are any better, but at least they can take the highway the whole way there - Temple will be stopping at Geno's on its way down Broad.
[If you like smash mouth football, this is the game for you. The Owls will be well served pounding the ball inside the entire game. Villanova plays an odd 3-3-5 alignment on defense and a lot of the front six will be green or coming off of injuries. Temple has its top two rushers in Matt Brown and Bernard Pierce to handle the touches. Mike Gerardi should also get his share of short passes in to take advantage of an all new linebacker set for the Wildcats.]
bmiraski: So have I officially pissed off every fan in Philadelphia yet? How about this: I don't like It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia...Ok, that took care of the last two people still reading.
Geeves: Well, being from Pittsburgh I'm required to loathe anything with the word "Philadelphia" in it. Matter of fact, I hope BOTH teams lose this game.
bmiraski: Not even the NCAA infractions committee can make that happen.
Geeves: That said, I'm rooting that Temple does what they do best and underestimate an FCS opponent.
[Villanova actually leads the all-time series between the two teams, 16-13-2. Temple is 4-2 against the FCS since 2000, the two losses both coming to the Wildcats.]
bmiraski: They have struggled with the Wildcats the last two seasons, including a loss in '09.
Geeves: Maybe history will repeat itself, much like their new/old helmets.
bmiraski: Only if Al Golden comes back...
[If you are betting on the game, take Temple to cover.]