If you're interested in viewing the very best officiated football in the nation this year, then the college game is for you.
The 2012 season starts tonight, thereby opening up one of the most underrated gambling weekends of the year. If a 25 1/2-point spread doesn't get you going -- well, I don't know what will.
If you're looking for the best game on this evening's slate, No. 9 South Carolina is at Vanderbilt at 7 p.m.
As for the events in our own backyard, the Temple Owls kick off their season Friday in the fourth and -- for now, final -- playing of the Mayor's Cup against Villanova. Game time is scheduled for 7 p.m. inside Lincoln Financial Field.
In advance of that game tomorrow night, and to get you set for the regular season, here are five of the key Temple story lines to keep an eye on this season...
1. Return to the Big East
For the first time in eight years, Temple will play an in-conference football game as a member of the Big East when they take on South Florida on Oct. 6. Of course, they'll take on a Big East member (in everything but football) long before that when when face 'Nova tomorrow night.
It's obviously been a long road back to respectability for the program since being unceremoniously ousted from the conference in 2004. Under head coaches Al Golden and Steve Addazio, the Owls slowly but surely rebuilt themselves in the Mid-American Conference and have managed to win 26 games in the past three seasons, including their first bowl victory since 1979.
The key now is to keep the momentum going, and that's easier said than done. As Addazio has so often pointed out this off-season, he and his staff have yet to have an opportunity to recruit to the Big East. The 2012 Owls have talent at their starting spots but lost 13 starters from last year's team, meaning they're very young and very thin in certain spots.
Temple was picked to finish last in the preseason Big East coaches' poll and, again, is making the leap to a better conference after losing 18 guys (five draft picks and 13 free agents) to the NFL in the last two seasons. Addazio got up "on his soap box," as he termed it, on Tuesday, reminding reporters that a constant rise is unsustainable, that there will always be ebbs and flows in every program's development and that neither he nor his team nor those who follow it can afford to be delusional with regard to their expectations.
In short, there's no reason to think the Owls can't be immediately successful in their new/old conference. It just shouldn't be surprising if they need a year or two to adjust and properly recruit.
2. Replacing Bernard Pierce
In three seasons, Bernard Pierce became the program's all-time leader in touchdowns in a game (5), season (27) and career (54). He's second behind only Paul Palmer (21 / 4,895) in 100-yard rushing games (18) and yards (3,570). He was drafted in the third round by the Baltimore Ravens to backup Ray Rice. He's gone.
So what did Temple do? They lucked into an all-time rushing leader from somewhere else. Montel Harris spent three years at Boston College, amassing a record 3,735 yards. He was the ACC's leading runner in 2010, before knee issues kept him out of all but two games last season. He received a medical redshirt and was set to return for his senior year Boston College, as the nation's active leader in 100-yard rushing games.
What specifically happened next remains unclear, but he was dismissed from his former program in May for a repeated violation of a team rule, and now he's property of Temple University for the next year.
Harris has been telling reporters all summer that he's fully healthy and that his formerly injured knee feels better than his uninjured knee. Should that prove the case, Harris and 5-foot-5 senior Matt Brown could form a duo not unlike what Brown had with Pierce in the three years prior -- obviously good news for a Temple program almost singularly focused on running the football.
3. Last year's QB carousel appears done with
Two-thirds of last season's quarterback depth chart is no longer with the program. Chester Stewart's eligibility expired and Mike Gerardi opted out of his final year, deciding instead to graduate.
That leaves junior quarterback Chris Coyer exactly where he finished last year -- the starting quarterback on a team just starting to figure out its offensive identity. I characterized the Owls as "almost singularly focused on running the football" above, because in the past they were. That said, last year's uncertainty under center was -- according to Addazio -- dictated by the coach not having the personnel immediately experienced enough to run his preferred spread-option.
Now that he has Coyer -- who the Owls were able to depend on at the end of last season, to provide a dual-threat -- Temple has a definitive starter under center capable of running the offense its coach wants to run. Though the receivers still need to prove they're capable of making plays down the field, the overarching scheme is finally starting to take shape and the guy running it seems much improved from what they had.
After a gradual and at times frustrating implementation last year, expect Temple to fully move into what Addazio wanted from the start: a spread-option attack mixed with a power run game.
4. A short-handed offensive line
Of course, all the scheming in the world won't make a difference if the offensive line can't stay on the field. And just accomplishing that much has been a challenge this preseason.
The starting five practiced together as a unit on Tuesday morning for the first time in three weeks. Add in that they're replacing four of five starters from last year and there are reasonable concerns over chemistry and cohesion. Further add the fact that Addazio can't get through a media session without mentioning the team's lack of depth at the position and there's even greater concern.
Not only does the unit to need to stay healthy in order to gel, but also to cover up for the depth the Owls don't currently have. Somebody -- everybody -- has to block, protect and not get called for a variety of holding penalties.
re's a game missing
Prior to the conference switch, Temple had UCONN slated on the schedule as an out-of-conference opponent. Of course, the Huskies are still on the schedule -- they're just now in-conference.
Temple filling the hole left by West Virginia meant that the Big East stayed with eight teams playing a seven-game conference slate. That said, since Temple lost an out-of-conference opponent they were unable to replace in time for the season, they'll be playing 11 games this season, rather than the usual 12.
That means, to get bowl eligible for the fourth season in a row, they'll need to be better than .500. In honesty, this isn't too much of change, as 7-5 teams are (nearly) always given preference over 6-6s, but getting to seven wins now means they can only afford four -- not five -- losses.
That and if you're trying to figure out where the extra gap in the schedule came from -- there you go.
Speaking of schedules, get a good look at what's left of the Big East this year, because come 2013, it will be unrecognizable. Pitt and Syracuse will be gone and UCF, Houston, Memphis, SMU, San Diego State, and Boise State will be coming in. Navy joins in 2015. That means, with 13 teams, the conference will undoubtedly be looking to add another for balance and two seven-team divisions.
As we've mentioned once, twice or 17 times -- realignment is far, far from over. And just one of five things to keep a watch on this season.