PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Rarely in college football can it be said with a high degree of certainty that a school is playing the biggest football game in program history.
This is one of those times.
No. 21 Temple hosts No. 9 Notre Dame on Saturday night in the first game the Owls have ever played featuring two ranked teams.
Temple is also 7-0 for the first time in school history. And the ultimate stamp of authenticity: ESPN’s “College GameDay” is setting up shop in Philadelphia this weekend for Temple.
Temple! A program that was an FBS outpost for decades. Temple football was so bad at one point it was essentially kicked out of the Big East. Now, Temple is playing the game of the week on Halloween Night at a sold-out Lincoln Financial Field, the home of the Eagles.
“People are stopping me on the street. They’re excited. I just think it’s a small window of all the great things happening at Temple,” coach Matt Rhule said.
Notre Dame (6-1) is right at home on the big stage. The Fighting Irish spend much of the season being their opponent’s marquee game, playing in prime time with high stakes.
“We just have to stay within ourselves. We know they’re going to be really hyped, they’re going to be really into it. We just have to come in and play our game,” Notre Dame running back C.J. Prosise said.
The Irish are heading down the stretch thinking playoffs. Their only loss came at Clemson on a soggy night when they couldn’t convert a last-minute 2-point conversion to tie. If they can avoid another loss, the College Football Playoff selection committee will have to consider the Fighting Irish for the final four.
But what about Temple? Yes, it sounds crazy, but the Owls have already beaten Penn State. If they can do the same to Notre Dame and continue winning when they return to American Athletic Conference play, they will have be part of the discussion when it comes time for playoff bids.
Picture this: Undefeated Temple hosting undefeated AAC rival Memphis on Nov. 21. The 16th-ranked Tigers have already nudged their way into the national conversation with a victory against No. 19 Mississippi.
The way things have been going for Temple, why not dream big?
“I want us to enjoy each and every moment,” Rhule said. “I’m not concerned at all we won’t be ready to play the game. I’m not concerned that the moment will be too big. Now are we good enough to hang with Notre Dame? That’s the concern.”
Here are some other things to know about Temple’s time to shine:
GROUND AND POUND: Temple takes it slow offensively. The Owls lean heavily on tailback Jahad Thomas, who leads the American in rushing (117.43) and they are 13th in the nation in time of possession per game (33:11).
Keep away seems like a solid idea against Notre Dame for two reasons. The Fighting Irish offense is fourth in the country in yards per play (7.31). It is in Temple’s best interest to keep Prosise, receiver Will Fuller and quarterback DeShone Kizer on the sideline.
The second reason is run defense has been a problem for the Fighting Irish. They rank 101st in the nation in yards allowed per rush at 4.79.
HOMECOMING: Fuller played at Roman Catholic High School in Philadelphia and will have a large rooting section. He said his mother has 100 tickets for the game.
“I don’t think I know all of them — but people that know me,” Fuller said.
Fuller is among the many who never would have dreamed Temple would be involved in a huge game.
“No, growing up, it was always the Eagles. I don’t think college football was really that important in Philadelphia,” he said.
The junior has become one of the best receivers in the country, averaging nearly 21.9 yards per catch with eight touchdowns.
TACKLE MACHINE: Temple linebacker Tyler Matakevich leads the Owls in tackles, just as he has done each of his first three seasons. He leads all active FBS players with 420 tackles and is on pace to become the seventh major college player with four 100-plus tackle seasons.
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