First Time For Everything: Could Temple Challenge For The MAC East?

David SanchiricoCorrespondent IMay 25, 2009

Only one stat is needed to put the Temple Owls' struggles in a nutshell; a 48-177 record since 1989.

And you thought your team was experiencing a rough period.

Try being kicked out of your conference, going through a 20-game losing streak, and being the subject of every punchline regarding college football.

No worries, good things come to those who wait, right? Most Temple fans would argue that this rule does not apply to their Owls.

But if Mid-American Conference (MAC) football fans learned anything from Buffalo's championship run last season, they realized that a disastrous past does not mean a turnaround is out of reach. In a league that is usually the most wide open in college football, anything is possible.

Even a successful year for Temple—the antithesis of success.

For the first time in recent memory, Owl fans are looking forward towards the start of football in the month of September.

After a 5-7 season that left the Owls one win away from bowl eligibility, head coach Al Golden and his squad have a trip to Detroit on their minds. The quest starts Sept. 3 when the Owls battle crosstown rival Villanova.

Why all the excitement on the Philly campus?

The Owls improved tremendously last season, finishing one game behind Buffalo in the MAC East. If not for a game-winning, 35-yard pass from Buffalo quarterback Drew Willy to Naaman Roosevelt, the Owls would have had a shot against undefeated Ball State at the MAC Championship.

Temple returns 17 starters on offense and defense from last year's team, which had the best record since Temple's last winning team in 1990. They do lose some key components, including third round draft pick defensive tackle Terrance Knighton and quarterback Adam DiMichele, who signed with the Philadelphia Eagles.

But the Owls' defense will, once again, be one of the best in the MAC. They return the seven leading tacklers from last season including Junior Galette, who had seven sacks in eight games. Their starting linebackers and defensive backs are all back.

The offensive side of the ball is what will make or break the Owls in the fall. No one, not even Golden, knows who will lineup behind center. Quarterback Vaughn Charlton was named the starter after spring practices, but Chester Stewart had the better spring game.

Both players have starting experience and were so-so in their stints as starters. Charlton showed flashes in 2007 when he completed 56 percent of his passes, but wrapped up the season with a six for 25 performance against Western Michigan.

Stewart started four games last season after DiMichele suffered one of his many injuries. He got off to a rough start with three interceptions against Penn State but played well against Miami (OH), throwing for 178 yards and three touchdowns in the win.

Temple also needs to improve it's running game, which ranked last in the conference last season. Fortunately, they return their leading rushers from a season ago.

If the Owls can get consistent production from whoever their starting quarterback and running back are, they could very well win the MAC East. Add another solid recruiting class—the Owls have had the best recruiting classes in the MAC since joining the conference—to the mix and they could be much improved from last season's team.

If there was ever a year for success at Temple, this is it.

Golden hopes this is the year. The highest paid coach in the MAC has improved the talent at Temple but has failed to prove his worth as a solid gameday coach. His 10-26 record is unflattering and this will be his most experienced and talented team by far.

No backward steps are acceptable. Considering the Owls' past, going backwards is impossible.

Only successful strides are expected during the Fall of 2009.