With all the chatter about the new Superintendent and his plan to defeat terrorism with increased study time, you might not have noticed that we are now only one week away from the start of the 2007 Navy football season. I’m so excited, I could punch someone (preferably an Air Force fan). For those of you who have found your way here by way of my YouTube channel, you may be wondering where the 2007 kickoff video is. Unfortunately, my computer is toast. I’m probably going to have to get a new one, so it’ll be a while before I make another video. I do have one more vid that I made before my computer quit, and with any luck I’ll have reason to post it soon. But not yet. You’ll understand when you see it.
Anyway, on to the game. It’s kind of weird that Temple’s first game in 2007 is against the last team they played in 2006. I suppose that makes it easier to measure how much progress they’ve made, and if you believe the talk coming out of Philadelphia, it’s quite a bit. “The talent level is not even close,” says Temple coach Al Golden. “There are very few guys from the graduating class last year that would be starters this year.” It seems like he’s taking an unnecessary shot at last year’s seniors, but the truth is that he’s probably right.
Golden has a much easier sell to recruits than Bobby Wallace, his predecessor, did. During Wallace’s tenure, Temple was mired in uncertainty. I’m no recruiting guru, but I think it’s safe to say that if there’s anything that will drive recruits away, it’s uncertainty. Nobody wants to spend four or five years in constant confusion, but that’s what Wallace’s staff was forced to try to explain away when they pitched Temple football to the players they went after. Temple was kicked out of the Big East and was in limbo trying to find a new conference. They had one of those dreaded internal “reviews” over whether I-A football was the right fit for the school. There were issues over the lease to play games at Lincoln Financial Field. As time went on, Wallace had to answer questions about his own job security. How can you convince a high school senior to step into that mess? You don’t. To try to make up for that, Coach Wallace turned to the junior college ranks to fill his recruiting classes. A JUCO transfer is only going to spend a year or two at his new school, so long-term instability is less of a concern. Wallace would sell the probability of immediate playing time and playing in an NFL venue. He had some success in getting a few of these guys. The problem is that regardless of how talented some of them might have been (I really have no idea), it’s tough to take guys who have played with you for a year or two and beat a team full of kids who have been in a coach’s system for four or five years. It can be done, but it’s no way to build a program. Wallace never gained any momentum, and he left after the 2005 season.
Al Golden has a much better situation. Temple now calls the MAC home. It’s a good– but not overwhelming– football conference. Golden is a new coach with a new contract and an administration behind him that has a renewed commitment to winning football. The uncertainty of the past has been transformed into a new vision for the future. It’s a lot easier to sell a vision for the future than it is to explain away the pain of the past (or present). With this vision and a lot of energy, it isn’t hard to believe that Golden would have a lot more success on the recruiting trail.
The question facing Golden now is how soon his wins in recruits’ living rooms will turn into wins on the football field. With a whopping 20 freshmen on their two-deep depth chart, Temple is counting on those recruits to contribute right away. Usually, that isn’t a good sign. There’s a big difference between an 18 year-old kid and a 22 year-old man, not only in physical development, but maturity. Golden’s task of “overcoming 36 points” doesn’t get any easier with a team full of rookies, especially in their first taste of the speed of Division I football. They might have raw ability (again, I have no idea), but it takes time to transform that raw ability into a polished player. That doesn’t mean that it can’t happen, but it’s a tall order. In last year’s game, Navy out-rushed Temple 420 yards to 13, sacked the Owls’ two quarterbacks six times, and forced two interceptions. Navy had a 28-0 lead before Temple had a first down.
Last year’s teams, though, aren’t playing this game. Navy’s offense returns mostly intact, but the defense has as many questions as Temple does. Well, almost. Paul Johnson has sounded optimistic about the defense’s ability, but like he always says, you just never know until you start playing. It’s been a mixed bag for the defense in the two fall scrimmages. When Kaipo is running the first team offense, nobody can stop him. When one of the other quarterbacks steps in, the defense plays much better. Is our offense just that damn good with Kaipo, or is there cause for concern on defense? Maybe both, although it’s hard to tell since the defense won’t see an offense like Navy’s all year. The strength of last year’s defense was on the outside, with Tyler Tidwell and David Mahoney. This year, the strength of the defense looks like it’s going to be up the middle, with Nate Frazier at NG and Clint Sovie and Irv Spencer at the inside linebacker spots. Will it lead to the same result? How banged up is the secondary? The outcome of the game probably depends on the answers to those questions.
Temple is doing everything it can to give this game a big-game feel. Wayne Hardin called on a couple of favors to bring Roger Staubach, Joe Bellino, and Bob Reifsnyder to the game as Navy’s honorary captains. I’m not sure when the three of them were ever together for a Navy home game. There are car giveaways and a semester’s tuition for one lucky Temple student. Temple has launched a massive advertising campaign, headed by Hardin, to drive up attendance for this game and set the tone for their entire season. The Owls will be pumped up for this game. The sooner that Navy can take the crowd out of the game, the better. Too bad there won’t be any mids at the game to help.