Avery Williams thought he had run as hard and as fast as he could when he walked off Chodoff Field during the first week of training camp.
Coach Matt Rhule saw differently.
“That’s not good enough,” Rhule said to the redshirt-senior linebacker.
After a season in which the Owls got off to the first 7-0 start in school history, beat Penn State for the first time in 74 years and became nationally ranked for the first time since 1979, the team has set an even higher standard.
“Each year we want to have the greatest Temple football team ever,” Williams said. “Last year we went 10-4, so this year we’re going to break that record. … When I graduate I want them to break that record and we’re going to keep breaking records. We’re never satisfied with anything.”
While Temple’s 2015 season was historic, it was not perfect. The University of Notre Dame ruined the Owls’ perfect start with a last minute 24-20 win. South Florida ran for 359 yards and three touchdowns to give Rhule’s team its first American Athletic Conference loss.
Temple won The American’s East Division, but Houston handled the Owls in the conference championship game. A loss to the University of Toledo in the Marmot Boca Raton Bowl sent Temple into the offseason on a two-game losing streak.
“We don’t want to lose,” senior offensive lineman Dion Dawkins said. “Even though we won 10 games, we lost two in a row, and that’s big. The offseason was definitely tough.”
The Owls’ offense ranked No. 60 in Division I with 29.8 points per game and No. 96 in total offense at 366.7 yards per game. The team relied on timely scoring and a defense that ranked No. 17 in points against and No. 22 in yards allowed per game.
Senior quarterback Phillip Walker, who formerly went by P.J., has decided to go with a name change this year because he’d prefer to be called Phillip as he matures and prepares for whatever professional field he ends up in.
With Walker and senior running back Jahad Thomas leading the unit, Rhule envisions the offense catching up to the defense this year.
“There’s always been guys on defense who have demanded that we play at a certain standard, every rep, every play of practice,” Rhule said. “What you’re seeing right now is guys like Phillip and like Jahad demanding that from the offense right now.”
Walker, Thomas and most of the seniors on this year’s team were part of Rhule’s first full recruiting class at Temple. There are six true seniors and 12 redshirt seniors.
The group has seen improvement every season for the past three years. They were part of 2013’s 2-10 team, and 2014’s 6-6 team before going 10-4 last season. Another four-win improvement would result in an undefeated, 14-0 campaign.
“I think year after year more people bought into what the coaches were saying and as a result we had more wins,” redshirt-senior linebacker Stephaun Marshall said.
One thing this group has never done is beat Houston, the reigning conference champions. The Cougars beat Temple 22-13 in 2013 and 31-10 in 2014, before taking home the conference title with a 24-13 win against the Owls last season.
After getting a taste of winning last season, Temple has its eyes on a conference championship and one of the New Year’s Six bowl games in 2016. This group of players will probably need to beat Houston for the first time to accomplish those goals.
“We haven’t beaten Houston since we got here, so I really want to get after them,” Williams said. “But in order to beat Houston, we have to go through all 12 games on our schedule. We have to take it one day at a time.”
Owen McCue can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.