For the first time in six seasons, the Temple Owls football team has won two of its first three games.
Not since 1994, when the Owls finished at 2-9 and 0-7 in the Big East, has Temple started out so strong. That season the Owls beat Akron and Army before falling to Penn State and a tough Big East schedule.
This year, the Owls, who were 2-9 (2-5 Big East) last season, have made some improvements. Their passing game appears to be more potent and their defense was ranked fourth in the nation going into this weekend.
“We’re getting to the point where we want to be,” coach Bobby Wallace said. “You’re never there, but we’re getting to the point where we’re a competitive Division I football program.”
Not since a 28-17 win over California in the 1979 Garden State Bowl have the Owls been to a bowl game. That season the Owls recorded their best record in the history of the program, going 10-2.
Since that time the Owls have had only one winning season, when they went 6-5 in 1984.
This season the Owls are looking to change all of that. They have a tough defense and most importantly. an easier schedule than last season.
In 1999, the Owls had the 13th-toughest schedule in the nation. The slate included No. 17 Kansas State, No. 21 Marshall, No. 2 Virginia Tech, and No. 23 Miami.
The Owls had a tough time against the ranked opposition dropping the games by a combined 191-7.
Although the Owls still have to deal with Big East opponents Virginia Tech and Miami, the non-conference schedule for the Owls is a lot easier this year.
The team started the year off with a win against Navy, a loss against Maryland, and a 31-14 win against Bowling Green last weekend.
Temple has goals this year that are very attainable. The first goal is to have a winning record in their non-conference games. A win on Sunday against Eastern Michigan would seal that.
“To play these non-conference games and win them is going to be really good for us in succeeding in getting to our bowl game,” senior linebacker LeVar Talley said.
Bowl game? That’s right: the Owls are setting their sites at the top this year and a possible bowl bid.
“This team has a chance to win some games,” Wallace said. “But they’ve got to play as good as they can play. We’re interested in being as good as we can be.”
The Owls have a tough schedule ahead of them as Big East play looms on the horizon. After playing Eastern Michigan on Saturday, the team plays Virginia Tech, Rutgers, Miami, Boston College, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh.
Wins against West Virginia and Rutgers shouldn’t pose as much of a challenge as the contests between Miami (1-1, 0-0), Virginia Tech (3-0,1-0), Boston College (1-1, 0-1), and Syracuse (1-1, 0-0).
A winning season, if the Owls win this Sunday and beat West Virginia and Rutgers, might come down to a season ending game against Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh, who shut out the ailing Penn State 12-0 last Saturday, beat Temple 55-24 last season in Pittsburgh.
“There’s not easy games,” Wallace said. “Maybe if you’re Michigan, Nebraska and the top elite 15 schools in the country. Every time you take the field it’s a tough game.”
Right now Wallace is looking at a smaller picture than some of the players and their bowl dreams. For him a winning non-conference schedule is the goal.
“We’ve got an opportunity to have a winning season in the non-conference games,” Wallace said. “This (Bowling Green) was a very critical game because if we don’t win, what kind of progress are we making? So I think it was critical and next week is too.”
The Owls take on Eastern Michigan Saturday night at 6 p.m. at Franklin Field.