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Who may be headed to a bowl? The surprising Owls, that's who

November 15, 2009|Phil Sheridan

The Temple football program has had its share of problems. No one is complaining about the latest: coping with success.

"It's clearly, unequivocally harder to manage prosperity," oach Al Golden said last week. "That all started when people started saying 'bowl eligible.' "

Golden's team began the season 7-2 before a road test at Akron on Friday night. The Owls are indeed eligible for their first postseason bowl appearance in 30 years. So it would be easy for the players to decide they've already had a successful season -- Temple's first since before many of them were born -- and coast through the last three games.

"I addressed that with the team, and we got a little bit off track," Golden said. "We started to take the poison last week and it almost cost us, and I hope we got them back on track, because we have to be focused. If we start listening to other agendas, we're going to be in trouble."

The Owls' seventh consecutive win, a 34-32 decision over Miami (Ohio), required a last-minute field goal by freshman kicker Brandon McManus. Golden can only hope that scare gets his team back into the us-against-the-world mindset that turned the Owls' season around.

It began, as usual, with disappointment. The Owls lost their season opener to Villanova -- a game scheduled with the good intentions of building a local rivalry. Then the Owls lost, as always, at Penn State.

Any other Temple team -- every other Temple team in memory -- would have folded up right then. An 0-2 start? Same old Temple. But Golden noticed something at that critical juncture.

"It wasn't until we took the bus ride back from State College that I could see it in our team," Golden said. "I could see they had more success physically against Penn State, as opposed to the coaches manufacturing a play here or there or a trick play."

The Owls haven't lost since.

"The biggest reason why the kids didn't fold is because they finally had invested so much into it that they weren't willing to let it go," Golden said. "Up until this year, we weren't quite to that point where we would invest, where we would make ourselves vulnerable enough to risk it all. And finally, we got to the point this year where the guys invested every ounce of energy they could all year round and there's no way they were going to let it go.

"There's just no way."

There were some football reasons, too -- chief among them Bernard Pierce. The freshman running back -- the nation's third-leading rusher with 1,211 yards -- gives Temple something it hasn't had since Paul Pierce: a must-see player.

Pierce is also a prime example of the smart recruiting that has fueled Temple's resurgence. He started at Lower Merion High School before he was involved in a fight, charged with assault, and court-ordered to attend Glen Mills. Golden and his staff researched Pierce and offered him a scholarship.

And then there is sophomore quarterback Chester Stewart, who had a terrific senior season at DeMatha (Md.) High. Thing is, Stewart committed to Temple before that season, having caught the staff's eye at Golden's annual football camp.

"We do not live by the herd mentality in our recruiting," Golden said. "If we wait for the herd, then we're probably going to get eaten up by the herd -- in other words, Maryland and BC and Penn State. We had 1,800 kids at our camp last year. Some of our best players have attended the camp. Chester Stewart, Kevin Kroboth, Bernard Pierce, Muhammad Wilkerson, Brandon McManus -- all of these young men were in our camp, and all of them have done a great job for us."

It is typical of Temple's luck that this winning season has been overshadowed by something just as rare. The Phillies' second consecutive trip to the World Series kept the Philadelphia area's sports fans occupied right through the Owls' winning streak.

What is unknown is what it will take for this first flush of success to translate into better attendance and wider interest.

"What you don't hear a lot about is, what do we have to do to make this a top 25 program annually?" Golden said. "We can't worry about the outside and all that. This is a great university. It's a great place to recruit to. I think the sky's the limit for Temple University and Temple University football. That's how we feel."

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Sheridan is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer

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