Penn coach Al Bagnoli threw the gauntlet down early at yesterday's local college football coaches luncheon - and he was aiming at his own team.
The Quakers travel to No. 1-ranked Villanova on Saturday riding a 99-year losing streak against the Wildcats. Just in case you thought things might change this year, here's how Bagnoli described the task at hand:
"If you look at this year's team, scary as it may sounds, they may actually be better than last year's team," he said. "If we turn the ball over as much as we did in Week 1, it's going to get ugly."
Of course, that's been said about this game on a number of occasions in recent years, but it hasn't always turned out that way. Of the seven Penn-Villanova games played in this decade, four have been decided by one possession. Only one, a 34-14 final in 2007, was decided by more than two possessions.
It might not be a coincidence, though, that the 2007 game was plahyed at Villanova Stadium. So was the Wildcats' 17-3 win in 2002, which had the second-largest margin of victory of the seven games.
No wonder Bagnoli said he thinks the game should always be played at Franklin Field.
It would be one thing if Bagnoli was the only self-deprecating head coach involved in the matter. Villanova coach Andy Talley is every bit his counterpart's equal, though, when it comes to playing down expectations.
"The pressure is really on us, because everyone is saying, 'You should beat Penn,'" Talley said. "If you look at last year's 14-3 victory, it was very hard-fought, very difficult, with one of the best teams I've ever had."
Talley has been matching wits with Bagnoli ever since the duo coached in Division III, at St. Lawrence and Union, respectively.
"I always admired his defensive skills, and it's just carried over," Talley said. "They are very, very disciplined, and very physical - amongst the best defenses that we've played against, and you can ask any of our players."
I suppose any football coach would want to play up his team's next opponent, no matter what their caliber. But Talley might have another strategy in mind: preventing his players from looking ahead to next week's road trip to William & Mary.
The Wildcats and Tribe were picked as the top two teams in the CAA preseason poll. Of the three biggest games on Villanova's conference schedule this year, the other two - James Madison and Richmond - are at home. So next week will be a very big deal.
This week's game is not as big a deal, even though both Penn and Villanova say their game is a rivalry. In a way, it resembles the Temple-Villanova series, with the Wildcats playing the role of the team that isn't supposed to lose.
There's another game Saturday between teams whose series has been rather lopsided over the years: Temple at Penn State. The Owls haven't beaten the Nittany Lions since World War II, and there's been a lot of trash talk coming from North Broad Street about that streak ending this year.
As Bernard Fernandez wrote in yesterday's Daily News, Joe Paterno is a master at worrying about Penn State's opponents. The Owls got one of their biggest wins in years when they beat Connecticut, but playing at Beaver Stadium is a much tougher test.
Feel free to fire away with your thoughts on both games in the comments. I've also put up a poll for you to vote in. Which game do you think will be closer, Temple-Penn State or Penn-Villanova?
I'll be on the Main Line on Saturday night to liveblog the action, and I hope you'll join me. And yes, we'll be able to talk about Temple-Penn State too. Because, as you've told me many times, it's so obvious that I hate the Owls.
Enjoy the weekend.
Local Sagarin ratings
22. Penn State (27-24-10)
46. Temple (60-59-99)
53. Rutgers (57-39-60)
69. Villanova (71-104-64)
92. Delaware (65-106-112)
131. Penn (128-130-135)
162. Lehigh (168-143-146)
204. Lafayette (220-141-156)
208. Princeton (187-189-187)
221. Delaware State (222-220-204)
235. Bucknell (235-230-213)
Sagarin predictions for selected games
(All games Saturday unless otherwise noted. I-A rankings by the AP, I-AA rankings by The Sports Network)