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Big East Game Preview: Temple vs Villanova

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Temple Owls (0-0) vs. Villanova Wildcats (0-0)
Friday, Aug. 31, 7 PM, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia
Line: Temple -25

Mayor’s Cup IV kicks off Friday in Philadelphia among cross-town opponents Temple and Villanova, but it could be the event’s finale. Despite playing one another more than 40 times, including each of the past three seasons, the game is not scheduled beyond this year. What had been billed as a city rivalry hasn’t proven a good fit for the two schools.

Villanova is a Big East program in most sports but plays football at the FCS level. There have been rumors recently that the Wildcats would move to the FBS level and play football in the Big East too, but the school has yet to act definitively in that direction. Temple was invited back the conference this spring after Villanova’s constant balks. Neither team seems unhappy that the other is not on next year’s schedule.

The two teams have played perhaps more out of convenience than genuine interest, at least in recent history. Villanova holds an edge in the all-time record at 16-13-2. The Wildcats defeated the Owls in 2009, but have dropped the last two games. The Owls should prevail in this one too.

Villanova was 2-9/1-7 last year, a precipitous drop from its 14-1 FCS Championship year in 2009 (and 9-5/FCS semifinals in 2010). Head Coach Andy Talley enters his 28th season at Villanova with 190-117-1 record. His team was picked eighth (of 11 teams) in the Colonial Athletic Association’s preseason coaches’ poll. The conference is, however, among the elite in FCS football.

Defensively the Wildcats return several starters and should have a solid unit. Offensively, injuries and transition leave some uncertainty to start the season.

On the other sideline, Temple returns to the Big East Conference after a seven-year exile. The Owls were football members from 1991-2004, but a 14-80 conference record during that period resulted in their ouster. The team returns having improved steadily under the leadership of Al Golden and current head coach Steve Addazio. Last year the Owls finished 9-4, playing their regular season in the Mid-America Conference and defeating Wyoming in the New Mexico Bowl for their first bowl win since 1979, and just the second in team history.

The team is rebuilding after losing the majority of its starters to graduation and the NFL. It only returns three starters on offense, and just five on defense. Quarterback Chris Coyer is a legitimate dual threat and newly added running back Montel Harris (BC transfer) should complement Matt Brown well, and ease the loss of Bernard Pierce. Nose tackle Levi Brown is the Owls’ most talented defensive player.

Despite the rebuilding, the Owls have the better talent and should win going away. What will be of interest is the Owl’s offensive play-calling and integration of Harris into the system.

Pete's pick: Villanova to cover