In 2018, Boston College will play Temple for the 38th time, renewing a game dating back to the earliest days of college football. It’s the first time the teams will play since 2004, and the game in Chestnut Hill will be the first time the Eagles host the Owls since 2001.
Back then, the college football world was substantially different. The Owls were the laughingstock of college football, a team ejected from a conference due to a lack of competitiveness. In their 13 years in the Big East, Temple won 30 games, never winning more than four in a single season.
For a league that started play in 1991, Temple didn’t win a game in conference until 1995, when they defeated Pittsburgh, 29-27. They didn’t win a conference road game until 1998, when they defeated 14th-ranked Virginia Tech, 28-24, winning just over a handful of games away from Philadelphia in their entire tenure.
That’s Temple’s history, whether they like it or not. They moved down to independent play, continued to struggle for two years, then joined the Mid-American Conference for five years. After Al Golden built the team into a MAC powerhouse, Steve Addazio moved the team back to the Big East, a league that became the American Athletic Conference. After a gap year where the team went 2-10, they’ve been a steady riser, winning 10 games a year ago and advancing to the AAC Championship.
For Boston College fans, there are two ways of thinking. On one hand, the Owls are a team yet to prove they can sustain their success, and it’s hard to tell if they’ll still be good in 2018. They’re still Temple, after all, and success has been fleeting for a team that essentially rents space in a pro team’s stadium.
On the other hand, Temple is now a solid Group of Five team. They’ve had success, with head coach Matt Rhule refining a roster recruited by, of all people, Steve Addazio. They were, at times, dominant last year, with decisive wins over Penn State and Cincinnati. When they hosted Notre Dame, over 69,000 people watched the Owls battle with a top 10 Fighting Irish team at Lincoln Financial Field.
If we were talking strictly about X’s and O’s, that would be one thing, but Temple provides BC with a solid, recognizable Group of Five team. Temple’s historical significance, which reaches back to the old Big East, blends with more recent success to provide a decent ticket sale, one that’s much more palatable than a directional team from the MAC, no matter how good Northern Illinois’s on-field history looks.
Getting the Owls on the 2018 schedule shapes it up to be one of the better non-conference schedules in years. BC adds a recognizable G5 team to a schedule already boasting a power opponent in Purdue. As of right now, they’ll also open the season with UMass and Holy Cross, per FBSSchedules.com, though it’s tentative and unconfirmed in the press release from the school yesterday.
It’s a schedule that works up the ladder of some great initiative. Even though they’re the FCS guarantee game, a Holy Cross game will draw local interest because it’s an ancient, Catholic school rivalry. It’s something substantially better than playing Wagner, for example.
Hosting UMass is also a big deal because it’s a semi-annual game the Eagles will want to keep on the schedule. By ‘18, playing UMass should be old hat, a season-opening game that maybe has some rivalry implications and at least feels like a rite of passage between local teams. For BC, it’s a game to go out and beat the Minutemen in a guaranteed, G5 victory.
Temple, at least in the current day, represents more what UConn is right now - a competitive but beatable G5 team. The Owls are finding their footing as a program, but they’re not going to be leaving the AAC for a power conference any time soon. Slotting them into that role provides a winnable game, but it’s not something to take for granted.
Then there’s the power conference team in Purdue. Even though the game’s on the road, it fulfills the scheduling requirement of playing a game your team could very well lose. The competitive nature of playing power conference teams is now essential and required for all ACC teams, and BC isn’t a school that’s getting annual games against Michigan State or Alabama.
As an aside, it’s not ideal for a power conference team to go on the road to Temple, and I’ve heard some whispers of complaints that the return bout in 2021 was put on the road in Philadelphia.
It wasn’t too long ago that teams took guaranteed paychecks in exchange for a road game, but that era is slowly dying. In order to get a team of a somewhat better caliber, the guaranteed paycheck is now a guaranteed home game. Throughout other sports, more schools are taking that approach; they won’t play on the road unless there’s a later guarantee of playing at home.
This year alone, seven ACC schools, including five in the Atlantic Division, are playing road games at Group of Five institutions, many of which are localized games. Boston College (at UMass), Florida State (at South Florida), Louisville (at Marshall), Syracuse (at UConn), Miami (at Appalachian State), and Virginia (also at UConn) are all playing games in this capacity.
Giving Temple a return game in Philadelphia is more profitable for the Owls than a second game at BC. It’s a cheap road trip for Eagles fans, and it presents an easy road trip drive for alumni bases, many of whom remember when the teams met annually, stretching from New York City down into Washington, DC.