This may come as a surprise to many of you, but the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team actually has a game this Saturday. Their opponent is the Temple Owls, a team that took them down to the wire in a College Gameday barnburner on Halloween just two years ago.
Now, after winning last year’s AAC Championship and posting back-to-back 10-win seasons, the Owls will try to immediately rip out Irish fans’ hearts by taking down ND on the road in the season opener. However, with a new coach at the helm and questions at various key positions, Temple has its work cut out for it, even if its opponent is a 4-8 football team that juuuuust might be looking ahead to Georgia in week 2.
So, to make sure we as fans FOCUS ON THE NEXT ONE, I spoke to Joe Serpico over at Underdog Dynasty, as he’s their go-to-guy for everything Temple sports. I asked him some important questions and some not-as-important questions, and below is the transcript of that conversation.
Read it and arm yourselves with knowledge for the holiday weekend, my friends.
1. So first and foremost, what do you think of new coach Geoff Collins? Do you think he’ll be able to build on, and improve upon, what Matt Rhule did?
Collins has certainly kept the momentum going in his first couple months on the job. While we haven't seen much on the field, off the field, the Owls are more confident than ever. He's an exceptional motivator and thinks outside the box with his recruiting tactics. Whether that translates into talent on the field is what we will soon find out.
2. Offensively, the Owls have a lot of key talent returning (RB Ryquell Armstead, the WR trio of Ventell Bryant, Keith Kirkwood, and Adonis Jennings, various offensive linemen with starting experience) - but coach Collins has not named a starting QB yet.
Who do you think will win the job, and how good can this offense be, considering the talent that QB will have to work with?
It's sounding like multiple QBs could see the field Saturday, and as the cliche goes, having two starters over one isn't necessarily a good thing. The problem here is Collins and OC Dave Patenaude have a legitimate four-man competition. True freshman Todd Centeio was the most impressive in the spring game and is a dual-threat QB, but it's anyone's guess who is the real front runner right now.
As far as the offense goes, whoever is in at quarterback will have plenty of weapons around him. I just wouldn't expect too many balls in the air in the regular season opener.
3. Defensively, the Owls lost a lot of front seven talent. Who will be the guys who will need to step up on the defensive front and at linebacker to enable this defense to thrive as it has the past few seasons?
Temple's defense has typically been one of the toughest in the nation. This year's group might be the most athletic they have had yet. The Owls do have to replace 22 sacks from last season and are expecting Michael Dogbe and Freddie Booth-Lloyd to anchor the defensive line from the inside.
The real question will be at linebacker where all three positions will be filled by inexperienced players, but their athleticism should make up for their lack of playing time. The Owls real strength is in the back end of the defense.
4. Let’s talk about the secondary, which actually returns a bunch of experienced players and added a transfer from NC Central, Mike Jones.
Who are the guys ND QB Brandon Wimbush will need to worry about most as he tries to throw downfield on Saturday, and how do you think the Temple corners match up against ND’s Equanimeous St. Brown and co.?
Collins has coached some great defensive backs and he inherits a terrific bunch at Temple.
Sean Chandler is garnering plenty of national attention, but Delvon Randall is a terrific safety as well. They are arguably one of the best safety duos in the country.
Artrel Foster will likely be the one who has to deal with Equanimeous St. Brown. You mentioned Jones, another fifth-year senior at corner, but he's making the jump up to the FBS and hasn't seen someone of St. Brown's size and speed at that level.
5. Who are you most worried about on the Notre Dame team, and how do you think Temple can stop them? Who should ND be most worried about, of everyone on the Temple squad?
Notre Dame's offensive line is a strength and we talked about the inexperience up front for Temple so that's why Josh Adams could be in line for a huge day. You're likely going to see a lot of the safeties in the box, which could lead to one-on-one matchups on the outside. Basically, the Owls are in for a real dog fight on that side of the ball.
With so many unknowns at quarterback, expect RB Ryquell Armstead to get the ball A LOT in this game. Jager Gardner will get his share of carries as well, but Armstead is the best player on offense for Temple. Whether or not he's able to get it going on the ground will depend on how good the quarterback play is.
6. Give me your X-factor players for the Owls on offense and defense (and special teams if there’s a key performer there) - whose performances will be absolutely crucial to a Temple victory?
On offense, it's going to come down to whether or not the offensive line can generate a push against the Irish's phenomenal defensive line. They will have the tough task of keeping an inexperienced quarterback on his feet, while also opening some holes for Armstead.
Defensively, keep an eye on Shaun Bradley, who will line up in the middle of Temple's linebacking corps. They're going to ask a lot from the sophomore and whether he can keep up with a team as talented as Notre Dame will be a huge test for him.
7. I absolutely love amazing college football names (e.g. ND’s Equanimeous St. Brown and Greer Martini). Who has the best name(s) on this Temple roster?
That honor goes to Prosper Mekoba, a redshirt-sophomore defensive lineman. Karamo Dioubate, a sophomore from Philadelphia, is a close second.
8. If you had to pick two players on this Temple team to compete in the ‘90s Nickelodeon game show Legends of the Hidden Temple, who would you choose and why?
Nick Sharga, who primarily plays fullback, but has played linebacker as well. He has some speed and obviously has the smarts to play on both sides of the ball so I want him for the challenges before and inside the Hidden Temple.
A fullback cannot go into battle without his back behind him so pair him up with Armstead to win the prize.
9. How do you think Temple will do this season overall - will they compete for the AAC crown again?
It's hard to imagine the Owls making it back to to the AAC title game with so many questions heading into the season. New coaching staff, new quarterback, and turnover along both the offensive and defensive line and at linebacker will be too much for Temple to win the conference, but they will be a tough matchup for everyone on their schedule. Seven wins and another bowl game should be in reach for Collins in his first season at the helm.
10. Give me your prediction for this game: winner, score, and reasoning behind it.
Again, with so many new pieces, it's hard to imagine Temple keeping pace with the Irish. We could see as many as three quarterbacks for Temple which could present some problems, but ND has the talent and experience to take this one.
It won't be anywhere near as close as the last time these two teams played on Halloween in front of the College Gameday crew, so give me a score of 31-13 in favor of the Irish.
11. Anything else Notre Dame fans should know about Temple’s team, program, traditions, fans, etc.?
The days of Temple being the punching bag of college football jokes are over. They are coming off their first back-to-back 10-win seasons and have seen many of their star players make an impact at the next level.
They've lost most of what has made them successful in those years — Matt Rhule to Baylor, and Haason Reddick, Philip Walker and Jahad Thomas are in the NFL — but Collins is looking to keep that trend going in the right direction. Things could get ugly in his head coaching debut, but there is a lot of excitement in North Philadelphia.
I want to give a huge shout out to Joe for answering all of my questions superbly, including a very well-thought-out answer about Legends of the Hidden Temple.