Al Golden’s preached it since the day he became Temple’s 24th coach.The signs hanging in Edberg-Olsen Hall serve as a friendly reminder to any player who somehow missed his message.
The football team, 1-11 last season,
has its eyes set on winning the Mid-American Conference.
“We weren’t all the way into the conference last year, but now that we are, we want to take the MAC,” kick returner Travis Shelton said. “And the coaches remind us of that every day – no less than MAC Champions.”
After two seasons as an affiliate member, the Owls are officially in the MAC, making them eligible to win the championship or claim any of the conference’s three bowl game bids.
“It’s changed the whole landscape for us,” Golden said of the MAC. “We’re in the business to get in the bowl games now. That’s why I came.”
Reaching a bowl game will not be an easy path for the Owls. Temple was picked to finish sixth in the East Division in the MAC News Media Association poll, ahead of only Buffalo. They will face three of the four MAC teams who reached a bowl game last season – Ohio, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan.
“We’re not going to back down to anybody,” Golden said. “I know everybody
on the outside wants to set our agenda. I keep telling [the team] that we can be as good as we want to be this year.”
Ohio, featuring running back Kalvin McRae, is the favorite to win the East Division. After dropping their first MAC game to Bowling Green, the Bobcats strung together five straight MAC victories before falling to Miami (Ohio) in the MAC Championship Game.
McRae rushed for 1,252 yards last season and set a school record by amassing 100 yards in seven consecutive games. He finished second in the conference with 16 touchdowns. The Bobcats also return six starters to a defense that gave up a conference-low 18.1 points per game last season.
Northern Illinois returns six starters to an offense that finished second in total offense, but needs someone to fill the shoes of the departed Garrett Wolfe. Wolfe led the nation in rushing last season, bolting for 1,928 yards and 19 touchdowns.
If the Huskies expect to make another bowl appearance, they’ll need to fix a defense that that yielded 364.7 yards per game last season. Defensive tackle Larry English, one of seven returning starters, will be counted on to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
English finished with 11.5 sacks last season, including 4.5 in a victory over the Owls. Junior Tim McCarthy, who finished third with 9.2 tackles per game last season, leads the linebackers. Western Michigan, picked to win the West Division, returns eight starters to both its offense and defense. Defensive back Londen Fryar leads a defense that finished 11th in the country in total defense last season, surrendering only 275.4 yards per game.
Fryar snagged five interceptions last year. The Broncos will lose linebacker Ameer Ismail, who topped the MAC with 17 sacks. The Owls finished 1-5 against the MAC last season but were more competitive against their new conference foes. Temple averaged 17 points and yielded 29.5 against MAC opponents. Outside the MAC, the Owls mustered only 4.8 points per game while giving up 53.2 points.
“We just seemed to come out and play better against [the MAC],” quarterback
Adam DiMichele said. “I really couldn’t tell you why. Maybe it was something mental.”
Last season, five of the Owls’ six non-MAC games were against BCS Conference teams, which are among the deepest and most talented in college football. Still, Shelton said the MAC gets its fair share of talent.
“A lot of guys feel as if they need to prove themselves, so everybody plays hard in the MAC,” Shelton said.
That’s also true for the Owls.
Their two years as an affiliate have expired. Now it’s their time to show the MAC what they’ve got.
John Kopp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org