by Jack Kerwin | firstname.lastname@example.org
Didn’t see this coming.
Like, uh, not at all.
With the stars aligning perfectly prior to last fall, it was kinda easy to grasp that Temple University’s football team had a chance to do something special.
Experience, schedule and publicity all dovetailed into a nifty, four-month “prove it” stretch, the Owls had the perfect opportunity to earn some respect, if not some decent footing in regard to building a consistently legit, top 25-contender.
Indeed, 2015 was their biggest, and most important, season in a lifetime, if not the entire history of the program.
That is, until 2016.
Not for nothing, but what Matt Rhule and Co. do in the coming days, weeks and months kinda dwarf what was achieved an autumn ago, when the Owls beat Penn State for the first time since World War II, entered the national polls for the first time in four decades and, most critical of all, grabbed acclaim in local circles for the first time in, well, just about forever.
Why? Because if they drop the ball this fall, or take a step back with any momentum possibly gained by the likes of since-departed All-American linebacker Tyler Matakevich, then 2015 was all for naught, or nothing.
For outsiders, what Temple accomplished last season was a nice story, a change of pace from the norm whereby the Owls lived in a purgatory state of “almost good enough” to beat a quality opponent or, worse, having no shot at all – to be anything more than a punching bags on the field and a punchlines off it.
But Rhule never came back to Broad Street to make Temple a one-hit wonder. A Penn State grad, a former Nittany Lions player, he arrived on campus more than a decade ago, hat in proverbial hand, seeking a chance to get in on what fellow Joe Paterno protégé Al Golden seemed to be getting started with the Cherry & White. He even stayed on when Golden bolted for Miami, helping Steve Addazio put the finishing touches on the most successful three-year run in Temple’s history, a 26-win stretch capped off by the school’s second-ever bowl victory.
After opting for a gig in the NFL to learn under the Giants’ Tom Coughlin, Rhule returned to North Philly just a year following his departure, aware of the obstacles in front of him, but confident in one way:
That he could win, and win big here.
Three years in to his reign, Temple has proven it can play with the big boys, that it can handle the big stage … in a one-season scenario. Now, comes the more telling part.
Can it do it year after year?
Especially when the stars haven’t exactly aligned in their favor …
A month from tonight, the Owls will open with Army. That’s a far cry from a showdown with Big Brother from the center of the state to start like last year did. Temple has to go on the road for that matchup this time around, and there is no game against Notre Dame this fall. Its league appears to be on the verge of upheaval once again, too, and, as intimated above, some of the prime-time players who made last season such a prime-time experience are gone.
Thing is, it could be better than last season and few people would know it …
But for Temple football to become what Rhule and others believe it can be, success in 2016 is critical to sustaining the program long-term, in something other than just “oh, yeah, that school has a team” fashion.
Double-digit wins and another bowl bid would seem just about “musts,” and a talent such as senior quarterback Phillip (nee P.J.) Walker, already the school’s all-time leader in TD passes, fulfilling his massive potential would help in more ways than can be explained.
So, yeah, this season is pretty important to Temple’s future. Even more so than last year was.
Didn’t see that coming … but do now.
It gave me pause.
Sometimes you hear something, read something, get a visceral vibe about it, check yourself, and then let it sit a day or two to have it sink in without knee-jerk reacting before coming to a conclusion.
That was me this week after reading an Inky column Wednesday about Temple football and its “Big 12 delusion,” as stated in the headline.
Thing is, so many of the points made by its author, David Murphy, are valid and, as usual, well written … but they’re just as much on the pro side as they are the con. Yeah, Temple’s desire to join is legit, and its selling point of being in the nation’s fourth-largest TV market is as well.
Boom, that’s all you need to know, and, frankly, that’s all the Big 12 needs to know in order to consider the Owls for inclusion. The fact a Philly scribe hasn’t heard others outside of Temple’s athletic department mention anything about it doesn’t mean such discussions aren’t, or won’t be, taking place.
Neither does the potshot, albeit funny, about that 2025 game against conference kingpin Oklahoma being a salvation when things fall through.
Comes off a bit like a graduate from another Philly school being jealous of the biggest one in town possibly getting some attention, and not feeling it was deserved.
Considering the landscape of college sports, especially the infrastructure of its conferences, remain in a state of flux, or on the verge of it, theories that suggest Temple may be targeted by the Big 12 are as legit as any other.
After all, didn’t the Owls just sell out the Linc twice last season, play in the American Athletic Conference title game and set a school record with 10 wins?
There was a time, not that long ago, where such things seemed delusional, too.