It might not be the most glamorous bowl game, but Temple’s football team will get some big exposure by playing in the first bowl game of the season.
Their matchup with Wyoming in the New Mexico Bowl kicks off at 2 p.m. Saturday on ESPN. To preview the game, I chatted with ESPN color analyst Brian Griese, who will be in the booth to call the action with play-by-play announcer Clay Matvick.
Temple has made a move in the last few years from being one of the worst teams in the FBS to being a respectable program. How much national attention do they get?
Well, I think if you look at the month of September, and what they did, there was a lot of attention. Certainly they got some impressive wins in their first two games, taking care of business against Villanova and Akron. And then Penn State, they should have won that game. I think if they win that game, everybody’s talking about them.
And then the Maryland win, certainly it doesn’t look as good now, but after the month of September a lot of people were talking about it. I think that realistically, that affected the team.
I talked to coach Addazio about it and he said that a lot of people were slapping their backs, telling them how good they were. He didn’t really feel good the week after, going into the Toledo game, and sure enough they got blown out.
Then they lost two more games in conference, and it was the same old Temple. But I was impressed with the way they responded toward the end of the year. They finished strong and they played some of their best football in the last month of the season. I think they are looking forward to finishing the season strong in the bowl game.
When you were in the NFL, you played in Denver, Miami and Chicago – all big cities. College football doesn’t always get attention in big cities, although in Miami it certainly does. Is it a little bit different when a college football team succeeds in an urban area the way Temple has, compared to Michigan, where you played, for example?
Well, I think what you’re seeing now is more concentration of universities in urban settings. Urban universities are getting more enrollment, they’re getting more financial support. I think you’re going to continue to see Temple, Northwestern, those kinds of schools, continue to grow and get more support.
As far as the competition for the eyes of the sports fan, I think in today’s digital age, there’s so much access to information, to games, to viewing, that people are going to watch what they want to watch.
If you have a good product, they’re going to want to watch it. The fact that Temple plays in a stadium like the Linc is an attraction, and it’s definitely a unique recruiting tool that Temple has. If they can build on the facilities, which I know they are, I think they have tremendous potential.
People certainly know about Bernard Pierce already. What other players are you looking forward to watching in this game?
I’m looking forward to seeing both backs, him and Matt Brown. The part that really stood out film is that everybody talks about how much Temple runs the ball. The creativity within Temple’s run game, to be able to run a spread offense and the principles of a spread-option game, while sprinkling the downhill, power, counter-gap scheme, you don’t see that very often.
For Matt Brown to be able to run some downhill, power runs, that are sprinkled in with his option game, that is impressive. And Bernard is able to do the things that he’s not normally known for in the perimeter game. So you can’t really key in on either.
I was looking for keys as to which back was in the game and which kind of a running style they would have, and they’ve done a good job of mixing those things.
Steve Addazio made a name for himself at Florida before coming to Temple. What do you think potential is as a head coach? I doubt this will be his last stop in his career.
It’s really early for him. Al Golden built a great foundation at Temple, and I think that Steve has taken that torch and not let the focus wane. I think he has the right attitude for that part of the country.It’s a tough neighborhood and a tough school, so you get tough players from around there.
Steve has the right attitude to create a physical team. So I think it’s a place that fits him well. But certainly there are challenges.
At the end of the day, I think he’s happy there, and people there like having him.
Wyoming plays in the Mountain West, which a lot of people here know of because of programs like TCU and Boise State. In your opinion, is the Mountain West deserving of a BCS automatic qualifying slot?
You can’t say that, because there’s so much changing and there are so many unknowns. They welcomed Boise, but now Boise has left. So it’s hard. If you polled college football fans, I don’t know that 10 percent would even be able to name who’s going to be in the Mountain West – or the Big East for that matter – in the next two years.
So it’s hard to make general statements about conferences right now, because you just don’t know who’s going to be in them. Certainly, if you talk about who’s going to be an automatic qualifier, we don’t even know if there are going to be automatic qualifiers.
Has there perhaps been too much change in the landscape?
There are so many factors that go into it. The thing that you don’t want to see is the loss of some of the great longtime rivalries, like Texas vs. Texas A&M or even Missouri vs. Kansas. There are some great rivalries that will be lost because of this.
We’re all in the weeds right now looking at this. We see the reasoning and the financial gains that exist. Right now, the sport has never been more popular, and that’s a good thing. It’s good for the universities, it’s good for the players.
But there’s got to be leadership from those in the highest positions to make sure that we don’t lose the best of college football. I think they are figuring out what that looks like.
What do you think of Wyoming’s team?
I like the head coach, Dave Christensen, and the quarterback, Brett Smith, who’s a true freshman. He can run, and he can orchestrate the offense, and they can score some points.
He’s good running the ball, but he’s not overly accomplished throwing it. He would prefer to run it. I think if you can get some defensive pressure, it always forces quarterbacks to make quick decisions, and I think that’s the thing Temple’s been able to do – force quarterbacks under pressure.
They are first in the MAC and 17th in the nation in sacks, so that shows they can put pressure on quarterbacks. If they can do that in this game, I they’ll have success.
Wyoming’s defense has struggled, and it’s been well-documented, at stopping the run. They’ve got some undersized guys. If they’re going to win this game, they are going to have to figure out some way to stop the running game of Temple.
You mentioned that Brett Smith is a freshman. Temple’s quarterback, Chris Coyer, is a sophomore. If you could go into the locker rooms on Saturday, what would you say to them as they prepare for the biggest game of their careers?
For young players in games like this, you need to play for the older guys, the seniors. Before the game, they’re in the barn, so to speak, with preparation. I believe in preparation and I believe that both of these guys have done that. They’ve put their time in. And then when you get out there, you’ve just got to let the game come to you.
These kinds of games are not normally won in the first half, but they certainly can be won in the first half. Both of these guys have played well, and Coyer has really come on and found his niche. He hasn’t turned the football over, which is a good thing, and he’s got a great supporting cast. So I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of pressure on him.
There’s going to be more pressure on Smith from Wyoming because he’s going to have to make more plays himself. He’s been a higher percentage of their overall offense, and he’s going to have to make some plays throwing the football.
I’ve seen more true freshmen playing this year than I ever have before. It’s exciting for them. It’s not really the best or most mistake-free football, but these guys are talented and they understand what it takes to win.