Time travel is supposed to be impossible, something only Rod Taylor and Alan Young did in the great H.G. Wells’ inspired movie, The Time Machine.
Well, for any Temple fan motivated to make the six-hour trip to Foxboro, it will be like sitting in that time machine and punching the coordinates for 2005 or maybe 2006. The University of Massachusetts’ football program now is where Temple’s was then in more ways than one. The Minutemen are 10 years behind Temple, and it’s not just on the field of play.
UMass will have a nice little tailgate thing going on, with maybe a couple of thousand hardcore fans but nothing like the 30,000 fans Temple gets these days for tailgating. Once inside the stadium, about 15,000 UMass fans will look like a couple of hundred in the cavernous Gillette Stadium and the home field advantage will be pretty much negligible. It will be nothing like the 12,500 Temple students and 25,000 more Temple alumni that gave the Owls a solid home field advantage in a packed Lincoln Financial Field on opening day against Penn State.
UMass as a program will be coming off a bottom-feeder year in a bottom-feeder league, the MAC, and not a bowl-eligible year in a big-market league like Temple did. Now, Temple is knocking on the door of the real top 25, while UMass is firmly entrenched in the bottom 25, like Temple was back then.
UMass fans have a similar bond with Temple fans of a decade ago based on the road experience, too. Ten years ago, Temple fans had to sit in front of their computers—some with dial-up connections—to watch road games flicker on and off on the MAC access network. Now, all Temple road games are on real television. The only exception to that rule is this week at UMass.
In other words, the experience will be Temple football, circa 2005.
Or, in just one word, Hell.
College football Hell, the same Hell the Owls escaped from with a 2012 invitation to the then Big East. Time and circumstances allowed the Owls to hit the forward button on the time machine, but those same ingredients are working against upward mobility for the Minutemen. The MAC only accepted UMass as a travel partner for Temple. When Temple left for the Big East, the MAC had no need for UMass. The school and the MAC parted ways by “mutual agreement” but the MAC had all of the leverage here and now UMass is left out in the cold of independence, an almost certain death sentence.
When you are rejected by the MAC, there is no place to go but down.
Maybe there is hope for UMass in the next round of major conference expansion. There is no room in the AAC Inn now. Once Temple or UConn or Cincy is, say, promoted to the ACC or the Big 12, something in the AAC might open for the Minutemen but, right now, it looks like they are stuck in football Hell.
There’s no forward button on this Time Machine for the Minutemen but, once the Owls escape Gillette, they can safely return to 2015 with UMass still stuck in 2005.
If anyone can understand where UMass is now, it is the Temple fans who will make the trip on Saturday. If they experience a strong feeling of de ja vu, they will know why.
Tomorrow: What Were They Thinking