The second time around has been far sweeter for Temple, who reentered the Big East after a seven-year hiatus looking nothing like their former selves. Currently at 3-2 overall and 2-0 in the conference, the Owls are exceeding expectations with an unheralded roster and plenty of heart and grit.
During their first stint with the Big East, which began in 1991, the Owls were the doormat of the conference. Things got so bad that in 2004 they were politely asked to find a new conference in which to play. But it took the program hitting rock bottom to revitalize Temple's commitment to football and now Temple is making the most of its second opportunity.
The biggest step may have come last weekend with a 17-14 overtime win at UConn, which gave Temple its first consecutive Big East wins for the first time in program history.
Second-year head coach Steve Addazio has a lot to do with Temple's upswing. Before coming to Temple to replace Al Golden, who is now at Miami, Addazio was the offensive coordinator at Florida. His program is built like him — a bit rough and rugged.
"I don't know that we're doing something differently, it's just that we're in the second year of the program and I feel the philosophy of who we want to be continues to take hold even with the loss of so many talented players we've had," Addazio said during his Tuesday press conference. "That's important, having that resolve."
The game last weekend in Storrs showed that "resolve" with a dramatic fourth quarter comeback that embodied the spirit of Addazio's team. But getting that third Big East victory might prove elusive with No. 15 Rutgers up next. While Rutgers boasts a handful of future NFL players, the Owls are very much the opposite, having lost three players to the NFL Draft last season - the highest ever number in program history.
On Signing Day, Addazio hauled in the No. 76 recruiting class in the nation according to Rivals.com, the top ranking in the MAC. But now that the Owls have bolted for the Big East, the class would rank as No. 7 in their new conference. There would seem to be a talent deficiency, but their start indicates otherwise with victories over South Florida two weeks ago and then UConn last week. It is a team playing far better than pundits predicted.
"We're still young, we're still inconsistent we still make far too many mistakes in football games and they're costly for us," Addazio said. "That's where we are right now but the fundamental building block is built on toughness, passion for the game, never allowing your will to be broke and we're seeing signs of that and that's a great foundation. That other stuff? It is what it is. "
Saturday's game against the Owls' first nationally-ranked opponent of the season provides a challenge for Addazio. The Scarlet Knights are coming off a convincing home win over UConn two weeks ago and a tighter than expected game against Syracuse last week. Ironically, Addazio was a candidate for the Rutgers job when Greg Schiano left to take the Tampa Bay Buccaneers job just a week before Signing Day. Instead, the job went to Schiano's top assistant, Kyle Flood, who has added a bit of charisma to the post in taking Rutgers to 6-0 and 3-0 in the Big East.
Despite making some headway in the Big East, Temple still has a long way to go, even with its own fan base. In an effort to drum up support for this weekend's game, Addazio made an impassioned plea for fans to turn out. The top attendance for the Owls this season was 32,709, and that was for the season opener against crosstown rival, Villanova. With Lincoln Financial Field holding twice the capacity of that Villanova game and with Rutgers expecting to bring more than 10,000 fans, Addazio has to wear both the hat of head coach and also head ticket scalper as he continues to sell Philadelphia on his team.
"It's exciting, I hope that Philadelphia will come out and support this game like no other," Addazio said. "I could see no reason why the stands wouldn't be packed. We've got a local team within a couple hour radius coming in here that's ranked 15th in the country. Out students - every single student on this campus - should be there. Philadelphia should be there.
"It's in the 'Linc,' it's a beautiful college football Saturday, we're 2-0 in the Big East trying to be 3-0, they're undefeated in the Big East. It's a geographic rivalry game. What an atmosphere. I hope we have a tremendous turnout for a great day of football; the kickoff is at noon. I don't know what else you could be doing, raking leaves or something?"
For Addazio, he hopes to rake in another victory.
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