While most people in Pennsylvania will be tuned in to ABC at 3:30 p.m. Saturday to watch Penn State and Pittsburgh battle for state-wide supremacy, Philadelphia sets will be…okay probably also tuned in to the Penn State game. But at the same time the city’s two powerhouse football teams will be grappling at the Linc for the first time in half a decade. And this one means a lot.
The 33rd meeting between Temple and Villanova doesn’t mean enough to get on actual television, mind you, as the game will be seen on ESPN3 (streaming only) at 3:30 p.m. There are plenty of tickets still available, but you wouldn’t know it by going to the host facility’s website. LincolnFinancialField.com doesn’t even bother to list Temple games on its calendar. Here’s a snap before they read this and hastily update it.
That all said, there should actually be a ton of buzz for the Temple home opener this season, which hopefully for both teams translates to a decent crowd. The last time the two faced off there were nearly 33,000 people at the Linc, and that Temple team was not very good. These Owls are coming off back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time in school history, so despite the blowout loss to Notre Dame to start the 2017 campaign, expectations are high. Compared to what former coach Matt Rhule is dealing with at Baylor — a disastrous offseason and embarrassing season-opening loss to Liberty — getting walloped by the Fighting Irish doesn’t seem so bad.
New Temple coach Geoff Collins will face new Villanova coach Mark Ferrante this weekend in the first match-up between these two locals in which the head coaches on both sides were new. Collins, of course, replaced Rhule when he split for the Big XII, while Ferrante follows legendary Villanova football coach Andy Talley, who he worked under on the Main Line since the late 1980s.
There’s a lot on the line for the Wildcats Saturday as well. After topping Lehigh last weekend, 1-0, Nova is ranked No. 8 in the current FCS rankings. FCS stands for Football Championship Subdivision, the second-tier division the Wildcats have been in for decades and, if we’re being fair, the level Temple should have been playing at for the entire Ron Dickerson and Bobby Ross
errors eras. Temple has been more competitive than not the last decade in the Football Bowl Subdivision with four bowl games in eight years, but they were awful for most of two decades before that, while Villanova has had just two losing seasons since 2001 and won the FCS national championship in 2009.
Could this weekend’s game be competitive despite the disparity in levels of competition? Sure. Temple still has a decent amount of depth from the last few bowl seasons, but their quarterback has thrown 41 passes in his entire (short) career and the defense lost some key players from last season, as evidenced by this year’s NFL Draft…and by giving up 49 points to Notre Dame last week.
Temple should outclass Villanova, but anything is possible this weekend. And there is actually a lot on the line, not just for bragging rights in the city* this year, but historically as well.
(*Yeah, yeah, Villanova isn’t technically in the city, so I get that calling a school on the Main Line a city school would be like saying a soccer team in Chester or a basketball team with offices and a practice gym in Camden are Philly teams. Wait…)
Temple and Villanova have a long-standing rivalry with their own cup, called The Mayor’s Cup, to prove it. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney will be in attendance this weekend (yes, we asked), but no word if the mayor of Villanova, Pa., will be at the game. (Fun fact: That’s a joke. Villanova isn’t really a town so much as a community in Radnor Township, so it doesn’t even have a mayor. If it did, I assume it would be Jay Wright.)
This is actually Philly’s third Mayor’s Cup. Well, technically it might be the city’s first, but given it hasn’t been doled out since 2012, it’s Kenney’s third. In 2016 he announced the inaugural Mayor’s Cup at the Schuylkill Regatta, given to the winners of the men’s and women’s high school varsity eights. The other Mayor’s Cup is an enormous city-wide distance race between Philly’s robust network of running clubs. So get in line, football.
The gridiron version of the Mayor’s Cup is awarded to the winner of this once-annual game, and while Temple won the last three meetings before the game was taken off the college football slate in 2012, Villanova won the three contests before that, one of which came in 1980, the last year of a decade-long run of games between the schools. Before the game that started that run in 1970, the two went 37 years between playing, but did face off every year between 1928 and 1943.
That 15-year run began with a 0-0 tie in 1928, probably one of the worst games in college football history, and it marked just the second time the two schools had ever played. They first met in 1908, a Villanova victory, giving the Wildcats — and whatever they were called in 1908 — a 16-15-2 all-time series lead.
This weekend’s game means everything for Temple! It’s just the fourth time in recorded history they’ll have a chance to level the series: In 1928, again in 1929 after that probably awful tie, in 1980 when Villanova whacked them 23-7 and this Saturday.
And so, while the battle for Pennsylvania football supremacy takes place 205 miles northwest between the Lions and Panthers, the battle of Philly football powers has quite a bit to on the line at the Linc this Saturday. Plus, you won’t have to sit through all those annoying “We Are” chants you’ll hear on ABC. It’s worth going just for that.