Owls, Panthers searching for Big East footing
Temple coach Steve Addazio expected growing pains while leading the Owls back into the Big East.
He just didn't quite expect to experience them quite so acutely.
One half, the Owls (3-3, 2-1 Big East) look like a team ready to compete for a conference title right away. The next, they look like a program overwhelmed by the abrupt switch from the Mid-American Conference to their old football home.
Addazio saw both sides in a 35-10 loss to No. 15 Rutgers last week, when a 10-point halftime lead ended with a 35-10 mauling by the unbeaten Scarlet Knights.
''I said at the beginning we had a young football team and we're going to have these roller coaster rides,'' Addazio said.
Pitt coach Paul Chryst can empathize.
The Panthers (3-4, 0-3) began the season talking about winning a conference title in their swan song before heading to the ACC next summer. A few days before Halloween, they're still searching for a first league win and anything resembling momentum.
''We want to win out, win the rest of our games, but first we have to beat Temple,'' running back Ray Graham said. ''We couldn't look forward too much before, because we were in a hole, but if we can win out then we'll look toward getting to a bowl game.''
Chryst isn't quite ready to think that far down the road. Pitt snapped a two-game losing streak in a lethargic 20-6 win over Buffalo last week but will need to be considerably sharper against Temple.
The Owls are no longer the conference doormat they were during their first stint in the league from 1991-2004, when they finished with one or two league wins 10 times. They knocked off South Florida in their first Big East game in eight years three weeks ago then backed it up with an overtime triumph at Connecticut.
Temple was 30 minutes away from another stunner last weekend when it jumped in front of the Scarlet Knights. It quickly fell apart. Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova tossed four second-half touchdown passes to keep the Scarlet Knights in the thick of the conference title race.
It was an aggravating meltdown, but Addazio is well aware of how ''fragile'' things can be for a team littered with underclassmen all over the field.
''To this point at this juncture, I think we've competed well,'' Addazio said. ''We've won some, we've lost some, but we're developing. We're growing but I like where we're heading.''
There's only one direction for Pitt go at this point: Up.
The Panthers were trounced by Cincinnati in Chryst's second game on the job but had their chances against Syracuse and Louisville only to come up short. Time is running out if Pitt holds out any hope of making a fifth straight bowl game.
It's something the Panthers insist they're aware of but not focused on.
''We're just trying to get better,'' wide receiver Mike Shanahan said. ''We think that we're improving and we've still got some good football left.''
Pitt will need to play good football if it wants its season to extend beyond Dec. 1. The final month includes games against Rutgers and Notre Dame as well as road trips to Connecticut and USF.
The Panthers are hoping the return of tight end Hubie Graham helps. The senior has missed four games this season due to injury, but his presence on the line should open up holes for Ray Graham and freshman Rushel Shell, who were held to a relatively modest 109 combined yards on 32 carries last week against Buffalo.
''If we can win a couple of these tough games coming up, it can change our season,'' Hubie Graham said. ''You've seen what we can do when we're on, we can move the football, so we need to eliminate all those mistakes and work on just playing against our opponent each week.''