Finally, legitimately, realistically, the stars, schedule and talent level are aligned for Temple University’s football program to take that quantum leap from barely an afterthought to, well, top-billing worthy.
Yep, even in a town where pro sports rule, where a lower-level program has received as much, if not more, publicity (at times, deservedly so), where Big Brother from the center of the state has had the attention of what little college grid interest exists around here in a stranglehold for as long as … well, for as long as the last half century. At minimum.
But now … the opportunity is there to break through.
Ironically, the Owls already are somewhat known, even respected to a degree, in national circles. Iconic blabbermouth Jon Gruden touted the team’s toughness last fall for everyone to hear, and USA Today, the country’s de facto paper of record, just recently ran a story that highlighted the steps Temple has taken and projected a positive direction the program has in its future.
Still, the Owls remain a tough sell locally. But that’s a given. That’s the way it’s always been, and if Philly, its fans and its sports media are anything, they are traditional, predictable.
If change were to be recognized and accepted here, it would have to be wide, sweeping, convincing.
Enter the 2015 season.
Not only do the Owls have big-bro Penn State coming to town this fall, but they welcome Notre Dame to Lincoln Financial Field as well. That’s two big-stage opportunities for coach Matt Rhule and Co. to show everyone, including those within the city limits, what Temple is all about these days, and what it potentially could be.
Since Rhule took the reins in December of 2012, depth and skill have steadily increased as the coach has built around standouts quarterback P.J. Walker, linebacker Tyler Matakevich, defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis and center Kyle Friend he inherited from the previous regime headed by Steve Addazio, now at Boston College.
The former Penn State linebacker, Owls offensive coordinator and New York Giants offensive line coach has made commitment, close-knit culture and physical play staples for the program. He sells the school and the city to recruits. He exudes a passion for the entire Owls’ community and kids, apparently, buy in.
Going from 2 wins his first season to 6 in his second, that’s pretty obvious.
The reality is, this rise under Rhule has been rapid. Even as the losses mounted in 2013, the Owls proved to be competitive. From the get-go that was the case, as they hung tough with the Irish in South Bend, Ind., until offensive futility ultimately took its toll. Later, they took eventual BCS bowl winner Central Florida to the final minute only to lose on a brilliant, did-you-see-that TD catch. Both UCF and ND ended that season ranked – 10th and 20th, respectively.
Last season, they were deadlocked 6-all with the Nittany Lions in State College, Pa., late in the third quarter before the wheels came off once Temple became a turnover machine, coughing up the pigskin on four straight possessions.
They seemed to be missing a home-run hitter in that one, and others. Well, their big-play receiver, Robbie Anderson, who was ineligible to play in 2014, is back for 2015.
So, too, are Walker, Matakevich, Ioannidis, Friend, d-end Praise Martin-Oguike, and d-back Tavon Young, all of whom rank among the best at their respective positions in the American Athletic Conference, if not the country.
The AAC, eventually, may give this group of Owls a bit more cred, too, if it happens to perform well. Cincinnati, UCF, South Florida, East Carolina and Memphis are on Temple’s conference slate and all have varying levels of acceptance, or recognition, among the national media. Reaching the conference’s inaugural title game in December would do wonders for the Owls as well.
If ever they were to break through, the opportunity is there now.
- Jack Kerwin | email@example.com