IF VILLANOVA football coach Andy Talley were running the program on North Broad Street, he's not so sure an inaugural Mayor's Cup game would be taking place tonight at Lincoln Financial Field.

The last time his guys played Temple, in the 2003 opener, the Wildcats wound up celebrating in overtime.

Villanova, which made it to the quarterfinals of the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) playoffs last season, is ranked fifth at that level. The Owls, entering Year 4 of the Al Golden reign, won five times last year, their most since 1990.

This time around, both constituencies are looking for more. It has to start somewhere.

"I would think, for Al, it's a nonwin game," Talley said. "If I were in his position, it's not a game I would want. Because we've beaten I-A [or Football Bowl Subdivision] teams before. And been competitive in losses. Based on where they're at right now, most of their followers think it's a slam-dunk. 'You should beat Villanova. It's a warm-up game.' But I think we're a dangerous opponent. Because we'll play hard, and hopefully well ...

"I like [having] it. First, it enhances college football in the Philadelphia area, which is dominated by the pros. Secondly, it gives us a chance to play a so-called money game without having to travel. It's not like going to West Virginia to play in front of 75,000 people. And there's a rivalry from the past. We were fortunate to upset them a few years ago. The fact is, coach Golden has brought this team along so nicely. So it's the kind of challenge we want, when playing a I-A opponent.

"And if things go right, we have a chance to be very, very competitive."

Golden knows all about the prevailing sentiment. But things have remained broken for way too long. All he's striving to do is fix it. This is another part of that ongoing process.

"Would [people] be happier if Florida A&M were coming in?" he asked. "Would that be relevant for the city, for our football program? Eventually, if you want to be a good team, you play significant games. That's the bottom line. You want to play games that are important for the city, that are important for the state.

"We chose to play regional games. We went out and got Connecticut. It's not like we ran away and said, 'We don't want that.' We have Maryland coming up in a few years. We want to keep playing Delaware. We tried to play Rutgers. We tried to play Pitt. Get them on the schedule. Let's go.

"This is the type of team we want to play. A lot of Temple alums, they said this is a lose-lose. It's not a lose-lose at all. You have to play this game, if you're at Temple. You have to play relevant teams, eventually, if you want the pressure of playing in a [Mid-American Conference] championship game, if you want the pressure of trying to win MAC East games down the stretch, if you want the pressure of playing in bowl games, out-of-conference games. If you're trying to beat some of those guys, you have to face this pressure first.

"If you're a winner, this is nothing compared to what we want to do with this program. A lot of people don't look at it that way, because everyone's protecting the status quo. And they're afraid to fail, afraid to be successful. All they want to do is what they've done. Well, that hasn't worked for 30 years. So we're taking the game. We made that decision. I don't regret it a bit."

Win or lose, there will be at least 11 more games left to deal with, beginning Sept. 19 at Penn State.

"Everybody's talking about the game, and it's the first one [of a 4-year contract]," Golden said. "And if we have a great game and a great atmosphere, wait and see how it takes off in the next couple of years. So, yeah, you risk. You risk every time. I worked 3 years to make this team vulnerable enough that they'd go out there and compete and not be afraid to lose. We're not going to back down now. That's why you play this game.

"Forget about FBS or FCS, I-A or I-AA. It doesn't matter. The toughest thing to do is teach a team how to win. They [Villanova] won 10 games last year. We're excited to play a good football team. That's all we're looking at. What's the difference between us and them right now? In [the] Sagarin [power ratings], they're ranked higher than us in that by about 20 points. I don't know what all that means. But North Dakota State goes in and beats Minnesota. Appalachian State beats Michigan. You can go on and on, every year. Those games happen. My job is not to worry about any of that.

"I want to play Villanova, whether it's the first game of the year or the fourth. Who cares? John Chaney talked to our kids the other day. He talked about when he took the [head basketball coaching] job, they tried to schedule all these games. And he said, 'No, no, no. Go get me Duke, North Carolina, get me those teams.' That's how he took that team from where they were to one of the elite teams. That's important. We're not ready for that jump yet. But we've made great strides. Now we're competitive. We have to take the next step."

Regardless of how the outside world chooses to perceive it.

Agenda

Villanova at Temple

When: Tonight, 7 o'clock

Where: Lincoln Financial Field

TV: None

Radio: WHAT (1340-AM), WPEN (950-AM)

History: Villanova leads the series, 15-12-2

Villanova update: The Wildcats, with a lot back from a team that lost on a late TD at James Madison in the quarterfinals of the FCS (I-AA) playoffs last year, are ranked No. 5 ... The offense has weapons all over the place, and all but one starter back on the line ... The defense has a few key pieces to replace but should still be quite capable ... Coach Andy Talley is 2-11 against FBS (I-A) teams, but four of the losses were by 10 points or fewer.

Temple update: Owls also return much of the squad that won five games a year ago ... Vaughn Charlton is the new quarterback ... Haven't played a I-AA team since beating Florida A&M in 2004 (38-7) ... Freshman Matt Brown, who enrolled in January and was one of the standouts in the spring game, has won a starting job at wide receiver. He stands 5-5, weighs 167 and can motor.

Villanova at a glance

Coach: Andy Talley (165-101-1 in 24 years at school, 193-119-2 in 29 seasons overall).

Last year: 10-3, 7-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association.

On the Web: www.villanova.com

Ticket info: 610-519-4100

Worth watching: Matt Szczur is one of the more versatile talents around. He can hurt you by catching passes as a wideout, taking direct snaps out of the Cape formation ('Nova's name for what most others call the Wildcat) or running back kicks ... Quarterback Chris Whitney is, as the media guide says, a physical performer who mostly finds ways to win. And having fifth-year senior Antwon Young around to go in for a series each half is hardly a bad thing ... Last year, as a sophomore, Aaron Ball became just the third Wildcat to rush for 1,000 yards ... Four starters return on the offensive line ... Osayi Osunde, who led the team in tackles a year ago with 75, might be the CAA's best linebacker ... Depth is a concern, particularly along the defensive line and in the secondary ... Redshirt freshman Nick Yako is the new placekicker. The old one, Joe Marcoux, was pretty reliable.

Great unknown: Last year, the Wildcats kind of flew under the radar, and got to the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) playoffs for the first time since 2002. This time, they're not sneaking up on anyone. There can be a difference, both in how they handle it and the way their opponents treat them.

It all comes down to ... Can the Wildcats get back to the postseason? Because once you're there, as so many CAA teams have shown, anything's possible. They haven't made back-to-back appearances since 1997. Last year they beat then-No. 1 Richmond in September, and the Spiders wound up winning it all.

Circle the dates: Last year, the schedule really broke in their favor. This time, they'll have to deal with three other Top 10 teams - New Hampshire, James Madison and Richmond - in a 5-week stretch (including a bye) that runs from Oct. 10 to Nov. 7. And every one's on the road.

Numbers crunching: The 'Cats have won three in a row over Delaware, including two in Newark. They beat the Blue Hens four straight from 1996-99 ... They've lost four straight to Football Bowl Subdivision (1-A) opponents since beating Temple in 2003 ... They don't play outside Philadelphia until Oct. 10.

Temple at a glance

Coach: Al Golden (fourth year, 10-26)

Last year: 5-7, 4-4 in the Mid-American Conference

On the Web: www.owlsports.com

Ticket info: 215-204-2981

Worth watching: Nose tackle Andre Neblett, a Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Lombardi Award candidate, will switch to jersey No. 2 this year, after wearing 98 his first three seasons at Temple ... Cornerback Anthony Ferla, who sat out last season, is back in the starting lineup. He's a playmaker, and one of the captains ... Vaughn Charlton, who redshirted last season, takes over at quarterback for Adam DiMichele, who made things happen the last 3 years. Charlton, who started four times as a sophomore in 2007, beat out Chester Stewart for the job. A third-year sophomore, Stewart got three starts when DiMichele was injured a year ago and will likely see action as well ... James Nixon, who can fly, Joe Jones and Kee-ayre Griffin combined to lead the country in kickoff returns ... Lamar McPherson, a former linebacker and fullback, has emerged as the starting tailback.

Great unknown: The Owls won five games a year ago, their most since 1990. But they were in position to get at least two more. So, can they finally cross over that line and go bowling for the first time in 3 decades? And play for a MAC title? The schedule certainly seems doable enough (Buffalo and Ball State at home, no Central or Western Michigan). At this stage in the process, coming up short is no longer a viable option.

It all comes down to ... Winning the ones they probably should win. Which means closing things out at the end. Last season, the Owls lost on a Hail Mary, and twice in overtime, including once after they fumbled the ball away while trying to run out the clock in regulation. They also lost two others by four and three points, respectively (while winning a pair by those same margins). That's how close they were.

Circle the date: Sept. 26, when defending MAC East champ Buffalo visits the Linc. When the Bulls came here 2 years ago, they won by 35. The Owls will have a bunch of motivation. Loser has to play catch-up within the division, and who needs that? In an it-all-falls-into-place scenario, Nov. 27 finale at Ohio could be huge.

Number crunching: The Owls have finished .500 in the MAC each of the last 2 years, 6-2 at home ... They've won nine of their last 19 overall ... Golden has yet to beat a team that finished with a winning record ... Only two programs have gone longer without making it to a bowl: New Mexico, which hasn't been to one since 1960, and Kent State (1972).