WRITTEN BY: TOM HANSLIN @tomhanslin
PHILADELPHIA – The winter, spring, and summer goal for Temple Football players was to simply find a way back to the American Athletic Conference championship, and defend the title they rightfully earned in Annapolis, Maryland last December. By no means was this a lofty expectation.
Sure, the program was bound to endure some growing pains – a regime change and a young, inexperienced roster presents its fair share of challenges. But those challenges proved to be large obstacles, and now the Owls’ main objective has been significantly lowered.
The ambition to repeat as AAC East Division champs is all but dead. Instead, Temple’s sole hope is to claw its way to a 6-6 regular season record, and become bowl eligible for a fourth consecutive year. At a glance, this goal doesn’t seem unrealistic. With five games remaining on the schedule, the Owls sit at 3-4 (1-3 in AAC), and two of their final three games are against opponents with losing records (Cincinnati, Tulsa).
Get three more wins. That’s not asking too much.
Then again, maybe it is.
Finding the slightest bit of consistency in Temple is like finding a needle in the haystack. With two months of the season nearly in the books, there seems to be no method to the Owls’ madness – no rhyme or reason to their underwhelming performances on the field. After all, Temple’s most recent debacle came last Saturday, when the lackluster UConn Huskies – a team which allowed 70 points the week prior – marched into Lincoln Financial Field and escaped with a 28-24 upset victory.
Nevertheless, Temple has somehow maintained a subtle confidence, despite cause to feel discouraged.
“Everyone knows we’re chasing six wins. Our end goal is to win out the rest of the season and be able to secure a nice bowl spot,” senior defensive end Jacob Martin said on Tuesday after practice. “I think the team understands what the end goal is. There’s no talk about us not going to a bowl game anymore. I think that was the Temple of old. Now it’s just an expectation that we go to a bowl game.
“With every loss, there’s going to be some frustration. You’re going to look at the film and see some things you like, some things you don’t like, regardless of a win or loss. I think it’s important to come out here ready to learn and prepare to play your next opponent and make sure you go 1-0 every week. I believe that we’re a Top-25 program. And now that the world knows that, no one’s going to sleep on us. You’ve got to come prepared every week, ready to work every week.”
While winning out is implausible, there is some truth and value in approaching this uphill climb week by week. On Saturday afternoon (12 p.m. kickoff), Temple will travel to West Point, New York in a matchup against Army (5-2), which is currently slated as a 6.5-point favorite. The Black Knights operate a triple option offense, and when the Owls hosted Army in the 2016 season opener, Temple’s nationally ranked defense was no match for the deception they encountered.
This year, Army ranks second in the nation in rushing yards per game (378.4), and for an Owls’ defensive unit that has allowed 399 yards on average, this could be a flashing red light. But to make matters slightly worse, Temple quarterback Logan Marchi is banged up with an undisclosed injury, and while head coach Geoff Collins expects him to suit up this weekend, it could be difficult for the Owls to generate their own offense while also keeping up on defense.
“There are positives and I heard people talk about the transition years and all that stuff and we’re playing so many young guys. We don’t care of about that,” Collins told reporters on Tuesday. “We want to win and have a responsibility for everybody in this organization to give everything they have to these seniors on this football team. I think that is huge point for all of us.
“We want to play at a high level, we want to be successful and even though recruiting-wise we are looking for the future, right now we are staying in the moment, staying in the present and we got a great Army team we are preparing for Saturday and that is our complete and sole focus, is to go up there and execute very, very well.”
Army’s success on offense has also come in a strange way. Their senior quarterback, Ahmad Bradshaw, is just 7-for-30 on passing attempts this season, as the bulk of his production has come on the ground (106 REC, 818 YDS, 7 TD).
“With teams like [Army], they except you to overcompensate for the run,” Martin said. “Since the beginning of the week, we’ve preached that the guys on the back end can’t go to sleep. As soon as they see an opportunity to take a shot, they will. I don’t think it’s anything we haven’t seen before. This will be my fourth time playing a cadet school.”
Temple’s annual bye week begins this Sunday, as they won’t play another game until Thursday, Nov. 2 (vs. Navy). But if the Owls want to finish out their campaign with a 3-2 record or better and obtain bowl eligibility, a win at West Point would be the first step on quite a steep ladder.
If you want to connect with Tom Hanslin, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @tomhanslin.
Michael is an award-winning radio host at WHIP Radio. He has been a staple host on WHIP’s Wake Up Call, and has recently occupied the role of Program Director for the station.