Tavon Young walked into the Owls’ team meeting a day after their 10-3 win against Tulane with thoughts of playing in his first career bowl game swirling through his mind.
Moments later, the hope and excitement turned to a painful disbelief, as coach Matt Rhule stood in front of Young and his teammates and told them their season was over; they had not been invited to a bowl game.
“I mean, it hurt because we put a lot of work in,” the senior cornerback said. “We got so much better as a team. When you don’t go to a bowl game and don’t accomplish what you want to accomplish, it hurts.”
Disappointment is a familiar feeling for Temple’s players. Over the last two seasons the Owls have lost eight one-possession games.
Cost by issues such as penalties and untimely turnovers, Temple has let several wins slip through its fingertips.
“The worst part is you need to look at all those games from previous years to see what you did wrong,” senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich said. “And it just hurts knowing that we beat ourselves in a lot of those situations, just guys not doing their jobs.”
The close losses coupled with the emotional roller-coaster ride to end last season, have the Owls battle tested heading into 2015.
“They’re scarred up,” coach Matt Rhule said. “They’ve been through a lot of heartbreak and close losses. They’ve been through some really high moments. Football’s about making decisions everyday to be the best you can be and they’ve been on both sides, so I think they’re making the right decisions.”
Temple’s 6-6 record last season was the team’s highest mark of the coach’s three-year tenure and a four-win improvement from 2013.
In the American Athletic Conference’s preseason coaches poll, Temple, who placed sixth last season at 4-4, was picked to finish third in the conference’s East Division.
The Owls expect to surpass that prediction as they are prepared to compete in The American’s inaugural conference championship game.
“We know what we can do,” redshirt-senior offensive lineman Eric Lofton said. “Especially after last year going 6-6, and we know we could have done a lot better. We just want to take that extra step as a program. I know as the seniors we want to lay the foundation for a championship program, so in the future everybody’s always talking about championships every year.”
Rhule similarly said he wants his program to be in the conversation for The American’s championship heading into each season.
“You’re not going to win the conference every year, but you want to be relevant,” Rhule said. “Are we there yet? I don’t know. I really don’t know. There’s a lot of good teams, but I want us to be a team that’s in the mix for it, has a chance down the stretch to fight for it, and then let’s go fight for it.”
While they hope to compete for the conference championship, Young and his teammates have not forgotten about the bowl invitation that alluded them last year.
“We want it,” Young said. “We want it real bad, and if we get it, it’s just going to mean the world to us.”
Owen McCue can be reached at email@example.com, 215.204.9537, on Twitter @Owen_McCue.