After 12 years in the Big East, the football team will play its last game as a member of the conference tomorrow when it hosts Boston College in the Owls’ season finale.
The Owls went 1-10 in their first season in the Big East, and not much has changed since. Coach Bobby Wallace has never led the team to a winning record. The Owls will play as an independent school next season, but beyond that very little is certain.
By 2005, they could find a new conference, drop down to Division I-AA, or disband the program altogether. Wallace hopes the Owls show something positive in the final game and early next season to persuade the Temple community that the program isn’t a waste of money and effort.
“Maybe it will be a tremendous beginning for something,” Wallace said of next year’s daunting schedule, which features five teams from the ACC.
Temple’s overall record in the Big East is 14-74. In five different seasons, the Owls didn’t post a single conference victory. Wallace coached the Owls to just 10 conference victories, but said he still believes Temple can be a competitive program.
“I think we gained the respect of every coach in this league,” Wallace said, though he admitted the Owls clearly hadn’t won similar respect from the administrators who conspired to kick Temple out of the league.
Though it may have been too little, too late, the Owls certainly gained the respect of Syracuse last Saturday.
The Owls beat the Orange, 34-24, to break a six-game losing streak. It was Temple’s first conference win of the season and its second win overall.
In that game, junior quarterback Walter Washington became the Big East’s all-time leading rusher for a quarterback, surpassing the likes of Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick, and Rasheed Marshall. Washington rushed for 185 yards and three touchdowns against Syracuse, tying the school record for touchdowns in a season with 15. He is now responsible for the Owls’ last 14 touchdowns.
The Owls were a perfect 4-for-4 in the red zone against a Syracuse team that entered the game with the top-ranked red zone defense in the Big East. The schemes used in the victory last Saturday will be the same, Wallace said, as he prepares a gameplan to stop the No. 19 Eagles.
“[The players] will be ready to play,” he said. “They’ve got a lot at stake and hopefully we’ll have the same kind of performance [as last week].”
The Eagles are coming off a 36-17 upset victory over No. 13 West Virginia last Saturday. Against the Mountaineers, senior quarterback Paul Peterson completed 18 of 30 passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns.
Wallace is aware of Boston College’s threat on special teams. The Eagles are second in the nation in kickoff returns.
“Just about every time they return a kickoff or punt, they get the ball to at least the 40 [yard line],” he said.
The Eagles will also play their final Big East game tomorrow. They will join former Big East schools Miami and Virginia Tech in the ACC next season. Boston College coach Tom O’Brien was complimentary of Temple, despite its unfortunate situation.
“We’ve always had a lot of respect for the Temple program. Nobody in the Big East thinks Temple shouldn’t be there,” O’Brien said. “They held up the Big East name.”
The Big East is aligned with the Bowl Championship Series, and the Owls were not able to put up the wins a BCS team is expected to. Temple cannot compete with BCS schools financially or on the field, Wallace said. The school’s budget is on par with programs in the MAC, a mid-major conference, and Wallace admitted that Temple’s is not a BCS-caliber program.
“I don’t recall a Division I-A team ever going down to I-AA,” he said. “I think 20-something have gone from I-AA to Division I-A. Now, do we belong in BCS? Really, not right now we don’t. That’s just reality.”
Donnell Jackson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.