As Big East looms, Temple faces feared foe: PSU
For seven years in exile from the Big East, Temple took a beating as an independent, found its mojo as a mid-major, and celebrated a long-awaited bowl victory.
The Owls return to the conference this season with a reinvigorated program and competitive players proud to wear the cherry and white.
Though Temple has every reason to boast how the program went from near death to nearly Mid-American Conference champions, the transformation from doormats to decency skipped a step:
The Owls still can't beat Penn State.
Forget seven years looking in from the outside of the Big East. The Owls have gone seven decades without beating the Nittany Lions. No shockers, and few nail-biters or should-have-beens for Temple.
It's not so much an ''O-fer'' as an ''Oh, no. Not again!''
Temple has not defeated Penn State since a 14-0 victory on Oct. 18, 1941. The teams tied 7-7 in 1950. Penn State has won the last 22 games of the lopsided series, including a 14-10 victory last season at Lincoln Financial Field.
Nothing would mean more to Temple (1-1) to prove to the Big East a game before the conference opener - vs. South Florida on Oct. 6 - that times have changed than knocking off the Nittany Lions (1-2) on Saturday in Happy Valley.
''It's not bigger than life,'' Temple coach Steve Addazio said. ''But it's got those kind of dynamics to it.''
The last two games in the series have been fairly competitive: Penn State only won by nine, 22-13, in 2010, and last year, the Owls led most of the way in Addazio's first trip inside the rivalry. But the rest of the scores make it clear why the Nittany Lions are eager to put the Owls on the schedule year after blowout year.
How about 45-3 in 2008? Or 47-0 in 2006? It was 52-10 in 1997. Do we hear 60? Yes, Penn State won 66-14 in 1995.
After decades of mismatches, Penn State leads the series, 30-3-1.
Nittany Lions coach Bill O'Brien called the game Temple's Super Bowl. But Addazio and O'Brien made it clear that past outcomes have no effect on what happens Saturday. True, the players change. This time around, even the coach has changed for Penn State.
But the facts are still there. And a deep, losing history can weigh on programs, no matter how much renewed vigor is inside it. Take last season, for example. The Owls gave their state rival one of the biggest scares in this series. But on the brink of a program-defining upset, the Owls collapsed down the stretch. Mike Gerardi threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter that cost Temple the win.
''I frankly don't care about last year,'' Addazio said. ''It's a different team. You have to have a different approach.''
The Owls are ready to try anything. And if nothing else, they will be fresh. Temple, fighting a lack of quality depth, was off last week after a crushing, mistake-filled 36-27 loss to Maryland at home. Led by a ground-first offense, though, the Owls might be in prime position to run some clock, wear down the Nittany Lions, and pull off the upset.
After all, this year's bowl-banned Penn State team started 0-2 before righting the ship against Navy, and averaged just 15 points per game before their first win. And the Owls are loaded with Pennsylvania kids who never received a recruiting call from Penn State. So, there are angles aplenty for Addazio to work this week.
''There's a tremendous excitement level to go up and play Penn State,'' he said. ''I think that's what makes college football special. I hate to see those regional deals disappear because they are kind of cool.''
The rivalry won't disappear, but it will go away for a bit. Temple and Penn State, in fact, take a break before starting a three-game series 2014. Two games are at Beaver Stadium and the Owls will host the 2015 contest.
Those games are too far in the future for Temple to worry about. The Owls need to simply face the frustration in Penn State this week, and then prepare for the official Big East return against the Bulls.
And in the end, that is what this season will likely be remembered for: A chance to compete for a league title against teams not named Bowling Green and Buffalo, a chance to gain a berth to a BCS bowl, and a chance to show the Big East these Owls truly belong this time around.
''In the past, there were some twists and turns,'' Big East Commissioner Mike Aresco said. ''But I'm not worried about any of that.''