Encouraged. Somewhat encouraged.
If a label had to be attached to the vibe reverberating within following Temple University football’s season-ending, 28-3 bowl victory in St. Petersburg, Fla., Thursday night, it would be that.
Not because the Owls clinched a winning campaign with the decision.
Not because they did something they never did under departed program saviors Matt Rhule and Al Golden.
Not even because they staked yet more claim to the best attire in all of college football on a regular basis, home or away.
The positive feeling, albeit measured, really has to do with the fact Temple didn’t bottom out. That, in fact, it started to stabilize despite the craziness that can come with a new coaching staff, new philosophy, new personality, new everything.
When Rhule left for what he presumed were greener pastures in Waco, Texas, all the buzz he had created along North Broad basically went with him. Talk around Philly about the Owls pretty much evaporated.
An uninformed fan base is one thing. An uninterested fan base is something altogether … and it ain’t good.
Still, as the Cherry & White head into the offseason on a stretch of four wins in their last five games, with Geoff Collins and Co. showing an ability to adapt and do what’s best for the team (hello, Frank Nutile as starting quarterback) and so many key components back next season, am not even laughing at the bluster coming from the locker room about being about the Group of Five’s “chosen one” next fall.
Thing is, the Owls ain’t that far off from that becoming a reality – not after another solid recruiting haul mostly completed by Wednesday’s early signing day and the knowledge that with a break here or a better play call there they just as easily could have finished 10-3 instead of 7-6.
Really, truly, only three teams were better than Temple on its slate in 2017: 10-win South Florida, No. 14 Notre Dame and undefeated No. 12 Central Florida. Chalk up losses to Connecticut and Army, even with its 10 wins and Armed Forces Bowl championship, as growing pains under Collins and a defeat at the hands of Houston as the gridiron gods’ first major heads-up that Logan Marchi was NOT the guy at QB.
It took Collins nearly another month to finally get the message there, but, point is, he did get it – even in time to salvage a winning season that included just the program’s third bowl victory ever.
Nutile and Marchi – he’s not lacking for talent, just “feel” for the game – are back, as are running backs David Hood and Ryquell Armstead, who spent most of this season hobbled by nagging injuries. The defense will reload, thanks to athletes both already on campus and those coming in.
About the only spot that is a real concern is wide receiver, where the Owls lose their top two guys in Adonis Jennings and Keith Kirkwood to exhausted eligibility. But that may pave the way to Isaiah Wright becoming a full-blown star anyway. Senior-to-be Ventell Bryant brings size and skill to the equation.
Considering the disappointing 3-5 start and the specter of all the good Rhule did with the program in just four years, Collins was on the precipice of disaster – both on the field and in the hearts of anyone who gives a rat’s ass about Owls football.
But Temple finished strong, and the Gasparilla Bowl appearance actually served as a nice recruiting tool and sales pitch for Collins’ way of coaching.
So, yeah, encouraged. Not crazy encouraged, but somewhat for sure.