It seems like an automatic part of any discussion of the 2018 Temple Owls football team.

But that Villanova game.

Despite this impressive Owls season, 7-4 going into Saturday's regular-season finale at Connecticut, where Temple is over a four-touchdown favorite, the team's season opener hasn't been forgotten. Not by the fans or even the players.

That Villanova game.

There's a good chance the Owls would be in the top 25 rankings right now if they hadn't lost their opener to FCS Villanova. At the least, they'd be knocking on that door.

Do Temple's players talk about the 'Nova game much at all?

"Yeah, we do, guys in the locker room, all the time," top Temple receiver Ventell Bryant said Tuesday after practice.

There's some head-shaking going on? Temple is 6-1 in the American Athletic Conference. Villanova finished 2-6 in the Colonial Athletic Association.

"Especially for the seniors," Bryant said. "We didn't want to lose to Villanova at all. We kind of struggled with them last year, so we really wanted to come out and have a great game. We started slow, we turned the ball over, we just didn't play Temple football."

You want a silver lining for the Owls? Lessons were learned that day, and not just the cliche thought about playing down to your opponent. More like Temple had to play a different way to be effective. If Temple had won 19-17 instead of losing 19-17, and had beaten Buffalo by a TD the next week instead of losing by a TD, it's possible — highly possible, I'd argue — that the rest of Temple's season wouldn't have turned out so well.

"One thing I can say we've really improved on this year is the explosive plays," Bryant said. "We take shots down the field."

Sure, a quarterback change is part of the mix. There's never just one thing that turns a season around. But 59 points against Houston, for instance, certainly counts as explosive.

"We're a completely different team," said Temple linebacker Chapelle Russell. "We feel like if we played today, it would be a completely different outcome. But you can't go back, so we use that loss as motivation, knowing how bad we really can play. You can't expect to just beat anybody at the college level."

Villanova deserved to win that day. The Wildcats had gotten the best of things.

"I can't tell you how much this means to our program," Villanova coach Mark Ferrante said that day.

Villanova head coach Mark Ferrante (center) celebrates his team’s win over Temple with defensive back Chucky Smith (left) and running back D’Andre Pollard.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Villanova head coach Mark Ferrante (center) celebrates his team’s win over Temple with defensive back Chucky Smith (left) and running back D’Andre Pollard.

He also couldn't tell you how his own season would turn in a tough direction, with injuries decimating the Wildcats, eliminating any possibility of getting to the FCS playoffs. That Temple win, one of the best by an FCS team over an FBS team this season as it turns out, ended up looking like a fluke.

Except Ferrante didn't see it like that.

"When you see the success that they're having in their league, it is frustrating in the fact that we haven't been that team since Week 3," Ferrante said last week.

We had talked during the week before the Wildcats faced Delaware.

"We might be close to the same team this week, at Delaware, as far as the same personnel on the field," Ferrante said.

And sure enough, Villanova went to Delaware and beat the big rival, and a FCS playoff team, by 42-21, improving to 5-6.

"I'm glad they're winning," Ferrante said. "That shows our team, if we stayed healthier, or worked a little harder, or played a little more consistently in some of other games — if we can beat a team like Temple, who's doing what they're doing, we should be able to compete with pretty much anybody on our schedule."

I'm not big on any talk that Temple should be 9-2 instead of 7-4. The Owls also scored last to earn one-TD wins over Navy and Cincinnati and beat Houston by 59-49, so 5-6 was in the equation, too. Actually, any record was in play, since Temple also had real chances to win at Boston College and even Central Florida. All in all, anyone at 10th and Diamond would have probably taken 7-4 with a great chance to get to 8-4 before a bowl game after Week 2, and maybe even in the preseason.

Owls coach Geoff Collins says that slow starts, to games and the season, aren't the way to do things. That's been the big message.

"We just took it as a learning point," Owls offensive lineman Jaelin Robinson said of the Villanova game. "We've grown as an offensive line, as a team. We look back to that game — that isn't our standard of football. We kind of use it as a lesson to keep moving forward."

Specifically, Robinson said the communication wasn't strong enough in that season opener. Villanova took advantage.

Collins was justly proud of how his guys fought from behind to beat South Florida on Saturday. He also saw some of the same symptoms as what had happened in the season opener. Finishing fast is great, but  "we have to come out fast," Collins said.

Geoff, about that Villanova game …