No one could confuse 2020 for a normal season. A little under half of college football just decided in the past couple of weeks to actually play this fall. Other teams, from Notre Dame to Charlotte, have seen games cancelled and rescheduled due to COVID-19 outbreaks. The stands are empty. There is no tailgating. Whistles are electronic.
This abnormality, of course, has extended to the AAC. Navy chose not to practice tackling this offseason, for safety, and it led to a humiliating defeat at the hands of BYU in their opener. UCF had 10 players opt out. Memphis hasn’t been able to play in a month now. The list goes on, but no one has had more difficulties getting their seasons out of the starting blocks than Houston and Temple.
Houston, of course, has been widely discussed. That’s because they’ve lost 5 season openers so far. Rice and Washington State, in a different world weeks 1 and 2, were cancelled because of the PAC-12’s decision to not play football and Rice postponed with the Cougars. Then, Memphis had to cancel due to an outbreak on their roster. So, Houston quickly added Baylor, who then canceled the Friday before the game. The next week, North Texas would be forced to cancel, due to their own COVID-19 issues.
Now, the Cougars are on a much needed bye week, before they welcome Tulane on a Thursday night. If that game goes as planned, and Tulane has not had any major issues to date, then Houston will start their season on October 8th.
Temple has been dealing with their own COVID-19 issues for a long time now. Their season would have started in a Manny Diaz and Quincy Roche revenge game, against Miami. That got cancelled when the ACC went to one out of conference game. Idaho and Rutgers had their respective seasons cancelled, which meant those games were off for mid-September. Finally, their Navy game had to be pushed back, because Rod Carey and the Owls didn’t feel they were ready to play a game safely.
Following the city of Philadelphia’s COVID-19 restrictions, Temple wasn’t able to practice at the level they needed to, so they’d be prepared. After seeing Navy play BYU on minimal practice, Temple felt they weren’t ready to play those same Midshipmen.
Temple still starts their season with Navy, but that won’t be until October 10th, when they had a mutual open date.
It’s been hard enough to get started in 2020, but what will these teams look like once they take the field. Will they be so energized by finally seeing the field that they make early season pushes? Will they be rusty when they take the field, working out kinks that their opponents have already ironed out?
There’s no clear answers here. We do know that both teams were expected to be in the middle of the pack in the AAC. Houston is working to bounce back in year 2 under Dana Holgorsen, meanwhile Temple is trying to prove they can take the next step in the conference. Still, there’s at least four or five teams expected to be better than either one of them.
If one of the two is going to come out stronger, it’ll be Houston. They haven’t been living under the same kind of restrictions as Temple. Instead, they’ve actually been preparing for real opponents. They also return several key players from Holgorsen’s redshirt the seniors strategy last season. Add to that they will start out against Tulane, who pulled off a miracle to beat them last season, and the Cougars will be energized.
On the other hand, Temple has practiced with a hand tied behind their back and they’ve been sitting on their hands for the most part. Where Temple can be hopeful is that they open against Navy, a team who is best taken on with time to prepare for that triple option. They follow Navy with USF, making their first two games very winnable.
No matter when these two teams get to start, they’ll be must watch, if only to see what they look like after such a long build up to the season.