Notre Dame

Villanova climbs to No. 4 after winning Battle 4 Atlantis

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Villanova climbs to No. 4 after winning Battle 4 Atlantis

Villanova's impressive Thanksgiving weekend was enough for the Wildcats to move up a spot in Monday's AP poll, from No. 5 to No. 4.

After rallying from 15 points down to beat Tennessee in the Battle 4 Atlantis semifinals, Villanova, led by junior guards Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges, dominated Northern Iowa 64-50 in Friday's final to take home the tournament title.

Aiding 'Nova's effort to move up was the poor week from previous No. 2 Arizona, which lost all three of its games in the Battle 4 Atlantis and dropped out of the Top 25.

Duke (8-0) stayed at No. 1 in the nation, receiving all 65 AP votes after two big comeback wins against Texas and then-No. 7 Florida led the Blue Devils to the Pk80 Invitational's Motion Bracket title.

Kansas climbed to No. 2 after beating Texas Southern and Oakland to stay at 5-0, while Michigan State and Notre Dame each moved up a spot to No. 3 and No. 5, respectively.

On Monday, Villanova and Kansas announced a home-and-home series the storied programs will play over the next two seasons.

Temple at Notre Dame: Geoff Collins era begins under the national spotlight

Temple at Notre Dame: Geoff Collins era begins under the national spotlight

Temple at Notre Dame
Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Indiana
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., NBC

And so, the Geoff Collins era at Temple officially begins. And it begins under one of the brightest spotlights in college football — a nationally televised showdown at Notre Dame.

Collins, who spent the last two years as defensive coordinator at Florida and the previous four seasons in the same position at Mississippi State, gets his first chance to show what he can do at the helm of a talented, but inexperienced Temple team that lost so much – its beloved head coach and most of his staff, a four-year starter at quarterback, a star running back and seven starters from a tenacious defense.

Needless to say, there are plenty questions his team will have to answer if it wants to leave South Bend with the upset win on Saturday. Ironically, Matt Rhule also made his coaching debut at Notre Dame, when Temple suffered a 28-6 loss in 2013.

On the other sideline stands Brian Kelly, whose seat is as sweltering as its ever been in the Notre Dame pressure cooker after the Fighting Irish crumbled last season to an incredibly disappointing 4-8 record.

Kelly has always been an excellent recruiter and has tremendous talent on his squad, but when you’re the head coach at Notre Dame, talent doesn’t mean everything. Wins do. And he’s going to need those this season, with the first chance at one coming Saturday.

Let’s look more closely at where both teams stand before Saturday’s season opener:

Scouting Temple
Yep, all the fingers are still pointing at the quarterback spot, where Collins isn’t publicly naming a starter to replace the now-graduated Phillip Walker prior to kickoff. It’s been a four-pronged race during camp between redshirt junior Frank Nutile, redshirt sophomore Logan Marchi, redshirt freshman Anthony Russo and true freshman Todd Centeio. Those four have combined for five receptions, 69 yards and a single touchdown in their careers. No pressure at Notre Dame, right, guys?

Collins has said he knows who will take the first snap, but odds are he will use more than one quarterback depending on the situation and field position. The guess here is Nutile, a pro-style QB and most experienced of the bunch, will get the first snap while Marchi will also see time. Don’t be surprised to see packages for Centeio, either, as he’s been a revelation during spring ball and camp.

Junior Ryquell Armstead is back for Temple and he no doubt will be the Owls’ lead tailback this season. With the inexperience at QB and new offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude’s affinity for running the ball, Armstead could well be the Owls’ most important player on the offensive side of the ledger. Even with star Jahad Thomas in front of him, Armstead led the Owls with 14 rushing TDs last season. He also had 919 total yards on the ground.

Perhaps Temple’s deepest position this season is on the outside at wide receiver where senior Keith Kirkwood, senior Adonis Jennings and junior Ventell Bryant give the Owls an experienced, talented trio to lean on. Those three combined last season for 2,017 yards on 123 grabs, including 12 TDs. Bryant led the way with 54 receptions and 895 yards. All three scored four times apiece.

New defensive coordinator Taver Johnson, formerly the defensive backs coach at Purdue, is tasked with molding a new-look Temple defense that must replace seven starters from a unit that was third in the entire nation last season in total defense with 282.5 yards allowed per game. Senior safety Sean Chandler is back as the unquestioned leader of the group. “Champ,” as he is referred to by coaches and teammates, had two picks last season and has seven in his collegiate career. The Owls must replace the entire starting linebacker unit, a group Collins has said will remain fluid. On the defensive line, there is experience on the end with seniors Jacob Martin and Sharif Finch and the tackle spot features youthful talent that could wind up being a strength.

Scouting Notre Dame
After the Irish floundered last season, Kelly thought it was time for a change and brought in former Memphis offensive coordinator Chip Long to fill the same role in South Bend. And Long’s tenure begins with 6-foot-1 junior Brandon Wimbush behind center to replace now-Cleveland Browns starter DeShone Kizer. Wimbush last season sat behind both Kizer and Malik Zaire, the later of whom has transferred to Florida. A four-star recruit out of Jersey City, New Jersey, Wimbush will be making his first career start on Saturday. He has five career passing attempts, all of which came as a true freshman in 2015 vs. UMass. Wimbush will be protected by 6-foot-8, 315-pound senior left tackle Mike McGlinchey, a Penn Charter High School product and legitimate first-round NFL prospect.

Junior tailback Josh Adams returns to lead the Irish’s rushing attack. He led Notre Dame with 933 yards on the ground last season. He’s the only RB in program history with at least 800 yards rushing in each of his first two seasons. He’s also a weapon in the passing game, as he had 21 grabs last year for 193 yards and a TD.

Junior Equanimeous St. Brown is a star on the outside for the Irish. The 6-foot-5, 203-pounder nabbed 58 balls for 961 yards and nine TDs last season. He can take over a game. Temple’s secondary, especially corners Artrel Foster and Mike Jones, will have its hands full.

Kelly also cleaned house on the defensive side of the ball and brought in Mike Elko, formerly of Wake Forest, to run the Irish’s defensive ship. Notre Dame ranked 42nd in the nation last season in total defense with 378.8 yards allowed per game, but was 61st with 27.9 points allowed per game. Where the Irish really struggled last year was against the run, allowing 182.42 yards per game on the ground, just 72nd in the nation. Middle linebacker Nyles Morgan is a player to keep an eye on. The senior and team captain led Notre Dame with 94 tackles last season, including four games of double-digit stops.

Saturday will mark the third all-time meeting between the Owls and the Fighting Irish, a series in which the Irish own a 2-0 record.

The first came back in the 2013 season opener at Notre Dame Stadium, when the Irish pulled away with a 28-6 victory in Rhule’s first game as Temple’s head coach. The Owls would go on to endure a 2-10 season from hell that year.

You probably remember the second meeting more vividly.

It came on Halloween night in 2015 when the No. 9 Fighting Irish visited Lincoln Financial Field and held off a valiant upset effort by the upstart No. 21 Owls, 24-20, in front of a national television audience just hours after ESPN’s College Gameday descended upon Philadelphia and Independence Hall for a Temple game for the first time. It was arguably the biggest game in Temple history and, despite the loss, it gave the Temple program a sense of legitimacy in the national eye for the first time in what felt like forever.

Storyline to watch: Seriously, though … how’s this QB thing going to work?
Duh. Of course this is the storyline to watch.

The fact that Temple’s QB situation is still this unsettled just hours before kick off can’t help but give some sort of legitimate pause. Is a multi-QB system really the best option for the Owls right now? Or is it necessary because no one truly won the job in the eyes of Collins and his staff during the summer?

How this all shakes down will be of utmost importance not just this week, but in the coming weeks, too. But it’s magnified because it’s the first game of a new era, it’s total change considering the stability of Walker over the last four seasons and the spotlight is always brighter at Notre Dame.

If Collins really does use multiple QBs, could one play well enough Saturday to finally earn the true starter’s crown? Possibly.

Either way, it’s a question that will need an answer soon.

There are just so many questions surrounding the Owls right now. And that’s through no fault of their own. It’s just what naturally happens when there’s so much sudden change, especially with a new coaching staff coming in and laying out its own blueprints. And there are questions about the Irish, too, considering how they continually stumbled and fell face-first over and over again last season. That said, there is still more stability within the Irish right now. The Owls will keep showing that grit they’ve been known for in recent years, but there will just be too much of Notre Dame to deal with.

Notre Dame 27, Temple 13

Despite change and new look, Temple now built for Notre Dame-type challenge in opener

Despite change and new look, Temple now built for Notre Dame-type challenge in opener

Geoff Collins stood behind the podium Tuesday, cloaked in Temple University getup with a white ballcap on, knowing what everyone wants to know four days out of the season opener. He sees the headlines. He’s aware of the tweets. He’s appreciative of it all.

He didn’t budge. He didn’t say a word. But reading his body language, the smile on his face, that of an affirming smirk, he knows who his starting quarterback will be Saturday in South Bend, Indiana, when the Owls kick off their 2017 campaign against Notre Dame.

When pressed about the topic again later in his first weekly press conference as a head coach, this time whether the quarterback knows, Collins went silent, smiled and paused.

Then, as he moved on to the next question, he leaned back and …

“Yes,” he said abruptly.

Temple released Monday its first “above the line” depth chart, and it featured all four quarterbacks — Todd Centeio, Logan Marchi, Frank Nutile and Anthony Russo — “ATL.” It’s believed the four-horse QB competition is down to Nutile, a redshirt junior, and Marchi, a redshirt sophomore, though it’s possible three could see action against ND.

Collins told The Temple News last week three quarterbacks could play against the Fighting Irish, and on Tuesday, he reiterated the rotation will be situational. Having four capable quarterbacks, Collins said, is a “very big challenge” for defensive coordinators.

Neither Marchi nor Nutile said they’re discouraged or surprised by the situation, and all four have pushed each other throughout the summer and camp. While Collins tipped his hand that the quarterbacks know who will start Saturday, Marchi said they haven’t been told.

"We got a good group of guys around us," Marchi said. "The decision was on the coaches and we just go out and do what we do as players. We got a good group of guys around us. No matter what quarterback goes in, there's going to be a good group."

There is more to Saturday’s season opener at Notre Dame than who will be the starting quarterback, or how many quarterbacks will be deployed against the Fighting Irish.

It will be the first game since 2012 that doesn’t feature Matt Rhule walking the Temple sidelines, and, ironically, Collins’ debut comes in the same stadium Rhule made his.

The first-year head coach’s résumé consists of defensive coaching positions. He comes from the University of Florida, where he served as the Gators’ defensive coordinator.

As a defensive coach in the past, Collins didn’t get a chance to build relationships with offensive players, which was something he said Tuesday was one of his favorite parts of his current post. He’s spread out more, forming connections with all of his players.

“I’ve had surface relationships that were really good at other places with offensive players,” he said, “but now, having meaningful relationships with those guys has been a really cool experience. Just being able to interact with them a bit has been a blast.”

There was once a time in Temple football, not too long ago, when a season opener against Notre Dame in South Bend would be an intimidating task. Too big for the program, too daunting to even consider the Owls having a fighting chance to win.

Al Golden began the culture change, and Rhule put Temple on the map. Notre Dame is coming off an eight-loss season, and its head coach, Brian Kelly, enters 2017 on the hot seat. The Irish, too, have a new starting quarterback after DeShone Kizer left for the NFL.

Brandon Wimbush will be under center for Notre Dame on Saturday afternoon, while the Irish have a new offensive coordinator (Chip Long), defensive coordinator (Mike Elko) and specials teams coordinator (Brian Polian). There are a lot of unknowns with ND.

Yet, Notre Dame enters as a 17.5-point favorite over TU. A lot of that has to do with the Irish being a power program with premium talent and the Owls having many questions themselves with a new coach, quarterback and having to replace stars on both sides.

“We know we have nothing to lose,” cornerback Kareem Ali said of Temple’s mentality. “We’re going to go hard, we’re going to kick their ass. We’re ready for it. There’s no pressure. We’ve been in this situation before. We’re going to do what we do.”

This will be the third-ever meeting between the two programs. Notre Dame has won the previous two matchups, but the last time these two schools met, it was on national TV.

The then-No. 9 Irish squeaked out a 24-20 win over the No. 21 Owls on Oct. 31, 2015, in perhaps the biggest game in Temple football history — at least of the last three decades.

“I still distinctly remember watching,” Collins said. “But the team’s different. A lot of the guys who played in that game aren’t here. Probably very few who played are here. It’s a new group, but I’m excited about the guys we have. It’s going to be a new challenge.”

Temple has an infusion of young talent jumping into bigger roles on defense. It has a new linebacking group, a couple new starters in the secondary. Offensively, the QB situation is still fluid. Ryquell Armstead takes over as the lead back after Jahad Thomas graduated. The wide receiver corps is a strength led by upperclassmen.

Still, the Owls are a confident bunch. Sophomore linebacker Shaun Bradley said the players treat “every opponent the same.” Senior D-lineman Jacob Martin said Saturday is “nothing that we can’t handle, nothing that we haven’t seen at Temple University.”

“We don't back down from anybody or any situation or any challenge,” Collins said. “That’s a testament to what the players have done here for the last 10 years.

“Establishing that culture of physicality and toughness. Anybody, anywhere, anytime.”