Even though Temple opened its football season at Notre Dame, the Owls biggest game this year occurs on Thursday when they travel to Tampa to face South Florida in the first American Athletic Conference game for both teams.
Temple (2-1) is the two-time defending East Division champ and last year’s overall champion and No. 21 South Florida (3-0) is the overwhelming favorite to take that crown.
So the game will have a playoff feel. It will also have even greater meaning for redshirt junior receiver Ventell Bryant, a product of Thomas Jefferson High in Tampa.
“Of course [it means extra],” Bryant said after Tuesday’s practice. “I get to show in front of my family and friends and I am from that area and I can’t wait to get home.”
He said his relatives in Tampa were fortunate that they didn’t suffer injury or destruction from Hurricane Irma.
“They are fine,” Bryant said. “…Some lost power but everybody is good.”
Even though the Owls have won the last two East Division titles and last year’s overall AAC championship, they are 21-point underdogs to USF, which is coming off a 47-23 win on Friday over visiting Illinois.
That’s just another incentive for Bryant, although he likely didn’t need any more. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound redshirt junior was never offered a scholarship by USF.
He said Temple and Florida International were the two schools that offered him a scholarship out of high school.
“There is a little bit of that edge and chip on my shoulder, they didn’t offer me out of high school and I have a chance to play against them and show what I am made of,” Bryant said.
This will be the third time Bryant will be playing against his hometown team and the first two were strong individual performances. In 2015, he had five receptions for 86 yards and a touchdown as Temple lost, 44-23 in Tampa.
“It was definitely an amazing feeling to score a touchdown in my home field, my home stadium in front of family and friends,” said Bryant, who added that between 30 to 40 family and friends will be in attendance
Last season he had another big game with five receptions for 115 yards as the Owls upset USF at Lincoln Financial Field.
Bryant was the Owls leading receiver last year with 54 receptions for 895 yards and four touchdowns. He missed the opener against Notre Dame this season due to injury and has nine receptions for 107 yards.
Temple coach Geoff Collins says that he understands why this is a special game not only to Bryant but to other players on the roster from Florida.
“Playing up here, they don’t get as many family and friends to play in front of,” said Collins, who has spent five seasons coaching in the Sunshine State, including the previous two as the University of Florida defensive coordinator. “Thursday will be a lot of family and friends and also with it being on the national television stage [ESPN], everybody will get to see them.”