HARTFORD, Conn. – Who would have predicted that Rutgers at Temple would end up being this season's first marquee football matchup in the Big East?
A larger-than-normal college crowd is expected in Philadelphia on Saturday when the Owls (3-2, 2-0) host the No. 19 Scarlet Knights (6-0, 3-0) for a share of first place in the conference. And while it may not be Florida-LSU, it could be an important game for this conference and region.
"I think it's real important," Temple coach Steve Addazio said. "We're going to represent Northeast and Big East football. "
That seems a bit ironic for a program reinstated to the Big East this season after being evicted in 2004 due to poor attendance, bad facilities and failing to field a competitive team.
But the Big East needs a rivalry or two to develop as it struggles through realignment. The departure of West Virginia for the Big 12, and pending departures of Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC will leave both the region and the league without a lot contests with regional cache.
The "Backyard Brawl" between the Panthers and Mountaineers will not be played this season for the first time in 70 years. And by the time conference expansion is complete in 2015, the only Big East football teams left in the Mid-Atlantic and New England will be UConn, Rutgers, Temple, and Navy.
Syracuse had its final scheduled game with Rutgers last week, and the Orange host UConn one more time on Friday.
"I always believed in northeastern football," Syracuse coach Doug Marrone said. "When we were playing here and Pitt, Penn State, Syracuse, West Virginia was in there, there was a lot of good football going on. When I was growing up, that's what I thought about and that was what I always would have liked to see happen.
"But it didn't, and you move on."
The loss of regional rivalries also disappoints Paul Pasqualoni, whose first trip back to the Carrier Dome with the Huskies Friday may also be his last.
"It's fan friendly," he said. "The kids all know each other. Recruiting, it becomes more intense, all of those things. For me personally, I think football in the Northeast loses a little bit when we lose people like Syracuse, Boston College and Pitt."
There will be other big games in the Big East this season. The league's three undefeated teams have yet to meet. No. 16 Louisville hosts No. 21 Cincinnati in their rivalry game a week from Friday. Cincinnati hosts Rutgers on Nov. 17. And Louisville visits Rutgers on Nov. 29.
But the resumption of Rutgers-Temple, a series between two northeastern schools in two big media markets, with a lot on the line, could be just what the conference is looking for.
"It think college football is at its best when it's regional," Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. "Temple is exciting for us to have in the conference, because it's a regional game. And it's a game that regardless of who the home team is, the other team's fan base can drive to the game that day and be a part of the gameday atmosphere an cheer their players on."