By Tom Dougherty, CSNPhilly.com
On Saturday night, No. 21 Temple has its biggest game in school history, a primetime showdown with No. 9 Notre Dame at Lincoln Financial Field on national TV.
The Owls are 7-0, their best start ever, ranked for the first time since 1979, and a win over ND would strengthen their odds at getting a New Year’s Six Bowl game.
But even before the game kicks off at 8 p.m. Saturday on ABC, TU’s football program gets a boost. ESPN’s College GameDay is coming to Philadelphia on Saturday morning.
The TV show will be held at Independence Mall from 9 a.m. until 12 p.m. It’ll be the first of two shows in the city — GameDay comes back in December for the Army-Navy game.
“I’m really excited about recruiting,” Temple head coach Matt Rhule said Tuesday. “Because at the end of the day, you know how many kids would like to come to Temple?
“They really like our coaches. They like Philly. They get to campus, they love it. And the only thing is, is it going to be big time?”
Just two years ago, the idea of Temple football being where it is now would have been dream. The Owls finished 2-10 in Rhule’s first season with a handful of heartbreaking losses.
The program has come a long way under Rhule. And College GameDay’s coming to Temple only verifies what Rhule has done on North Broad Street.
“We’ve got a history of first-round draft picks,” Rhule said. “When we get to a bowl game this year, we’ll have 26 college graduates on the team. We have guys finishing up their master’s degree and playing football. Our kids are in over 34 different majors. You’re getting a great education, you’re going to be in one of the greatest cities in the world.
“You’re going to go to a great campus, study whatever you want and play big-time college football. There are a lot of kids who say, ‘I want to go but …’ Now I’m like, ‘But what? Here it is.'”
Temple has wins over Penn State and Cincinnati. Last Thursday, the Owls pulled off an impressive comeback at East Carolina.
The Owls’ success has caught the city’s attention. Tuesday practices are now packed with media. There’s genuine buzz around this team and Rhule knows it.
Rhule said the problem with a lot of teams that start to win is they try to capitalize in recruiting. They begin to chase the stars and get away from what got them to be successful.
“You can’t forget your mission,” he said. “You can’t forget what you do. We only have seven wins, I’m not having a parade. I want Temple guys. I want guys I know who are good enough.
“I want guys who want to come here, who want to go to school and want to do things the right way and want to play football. You can’t get caught up trying to be a hotshot program.”
Still, the Notre Dame game offers Temple a “three-hour commercial,” Rhule said. The Irish have a storied history, so drawing them in primetime is huge for TU.
Getting College GameDay is also an accomplishment and one that will help spread the Temple football brand across the country.
“It definitely helps out in recruiting,” running back Jahad Thomas said. “Getting a lot of players in for the following years to come, but we can’t focus on that now.
“We have an opponent at hand and that’s Notre Dame. That’s what we’re focused on, we’re focused on them.”
Cornerback Tavon Young said he found out GameDay was coming on Instagram. Young is one of 22 players still on the team from the 2-10 season two years ago.
He’s seen the program grow and acknowledged getting the TV show to come is exciting for the university, but he isn’t focused on which mascot Lee Corso picks.
“We can’t attend it,” Young said. “We’re just playing in the game. It can go bad. Everybody can just think about GameDay coming here and lose focus. I’m not thinking about that.”
Temple’s defensive line anchor, Matt Ioannidis, said the Owls already “kind of knew” ESPN was coming to Temple, so when the announcement came Monday it wasn’t a shock.
“It’s great for the school, the students and everyone who gets to experience it,” Ioannidis said. “It’s an honor, but at the same time, you can’t really put anything into it. At the end of the day, you’re going to line up, they’re going to line up and play. It’s not going to help you win or lose.”
Ioannidis said the Owls aren’t letting the national attention get to them and they’re sticking to what the coaching staff is preaching to them.
This year, Rhule wants his team to embrace the moment and focus on what’s next.
So on Saturday night at the Linc, Ioannidis and the Owls aren’t going to change for the Irish.
“This senior class has really fought back hard to get to where we are today,” Rhule said. “I couldn’t be more proud of these guys. We’ve been doing it all year. Nothing’s going to change for us.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE: See the story on CSNPhilly.com)