For Notre Dame-Temple, South Florida still relevant

For Notre Dame-Temple, South Florida still relevant
August 30, 2013, 2:30 pm
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — It's a robotic cliche media members hear around locker rooms in any sport: We're taking it one day/week/game at a time.

All eyes will be on Notre Dame a week from now, when the Irish travel to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan in what could be a bellwether game for both teams. If Notre Dame wins that game, its path to a BCS bowl will become easier. A loss, and the Pointsettia Bowl is a real possibility.

That's a lot of importance falling on a Week 2 game, but maybe it's worth noting the winner of Notre Dame-Michigan has gone to a BCS bowl the last two years, while the loser has gone 8-5. 

For the game to have its maximum magnitude, though, Notre Dame has to get through Temple first.

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It's a task that looks easy on paper. Temple went 4-7 last year, has a new coach and no longer has game-breaking running back Montel Harris. The American Athletic Conference had a lackluster opening night, with Rutgers losing in overtime to a solid Fresno State team and UConn losing by 15, at home, to FCS-level Towson. 

But two years ago, the ball got rolling for Notre Dame's disappointing season a week before the Michigan game. Ranked No. 16 in the preseason AP poll, the Irish committed five turnovers against USF — which went 5-7 that year — in a catastrophic 23-20 loss in South Bend.

"I'm not that far removed from South Florida," coach Brian Kelly said on Tuesday. "We focus on Temple, I talk about it every day. I talk about the importance of playing this game and focusing on this football game. It'll be a topic of conversation again today, tomorrow and every day leading right up to the Temple game."

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While some players opted to take the "we're not looking to the past" approach when asked about South Florida, the message did seem to be received by those willing to talk about it.

"We just have to come out, start fast, don't take Temple for granted, they're a great team on paper and in the field," running back Amir Carlisle, who played for USC in 2011, said. "And we can't underestimate any opponent. We have to take each game one day at a time, and prepare for this game like it's the national championship."

Notre Dame nearly paid the price for complacency last year, eking out a triple-overtime win over Pittsburgh a week after vaulting themselves into the national championship picture with a victory at Oklahoma. 

The circumstances will be different this Saturday, but the point beat into Irish players' heads is this: Don't lose sight of the week-to-week grind in light of the big picture. That big picture is to get back to the BCS Championship, but to do so, Notre Dame still has to beat a team they should in Temple.

"We had a talk about climbing the mountain, you can't skip rocks," cornerback KeiVarae Russell said. "If you skip rocks, you might fall. That's how we apply that to our schedule — we can't skip Temple."