With a 7-2 record, the inside track on the MAC East Division title and a buzz surrounding the program for the first time in a long time, Temple football truly is in a Golden Age.
But enjoy it, Owls fans, because it may not last long…and it has nothing to do with what you might expect from the Temple program.
Last week’s thrilling victory over Miami (OH) gave the Owls seven wins, assuring them of their first winning season since 1990. Should they defeat Akron on Friday night, they’ll do something they haven’t in three decades—win as many as eight.
That season, Wayne Hardin led the independent Owls to a 10-2 record and a victory in the Garden State Bowl. It was the best campaign in school history. Perhaps, that is, until now.
Four years after taking over the most downtrodden team in the FBS, Al Golden has his Owls riding a seven-game winning streak and thinking bowl for the first time since that fateful 1979 season.
It certainly didn’t look that way at the beginning of the year. After blowing a 14-point fourth quarter lead against FCS foe Villanova and looking listless in a 25-point defeat at Penn State, the Owls looked to be on the road to maintaining the sub-.500 status quo they’ve held for two decades.
And then it happened.
The Owls blew out last season’s MAC darling, Buffalo, and something clicked. A month and change later they’ve won seven straight, including five MAC victories, wins over both Army and Navy—the same Navy team that just beat Notre Dame in South Bend last weekend—and a pair of comebacks that previous Temple teams couldn’t even dream of.
Against Navy, Bernard Pierce carried the offense by running for 267 yards and a pair of scores—the latter one completing a fourth-quarter comeback to give Temple its biggest win of the season. A week later, Temple blew a 31-13 fourth-quarter lead against hapless Miami (OH) before driving for the winning field goal with just a few ticks left on the clock.
Really? Temple football?
Yes, Temple football. And it’s because of head coach Al Golden, who has improved his record each of his four years on Broad Street and at least deserves consideration for Coach of the Year.
The team was a mess when he took over—and for the 15 years before that too.
Since their last winning season in 1990, Temple has been a doormat. The final two years of the Jerry Berndt era netted a 3-19 overall record. Ron Dickerson, his replacement, won eight games…in five years.
Then in came Bobby Wallace, a guru who took Division II North Alabama to three straight national titles. His eight-year tenure yielded 19 wins—including an 0-11 campaign in his swan song—and a boot from the Big East.
Enter Golden, who has already won 17 in three-plus seasons and has the Owls on the right track.
Temple should beat Akron. After that, they get Kent State and then a showdown for the division title against Ohio. From there, they could find themselves in the MAC Championship Game and should almost assuredly earn one of the MAC’s three guaranteed bowl bids.
They could even possibly end 2009 with the most wins in school history.
Golden has Temple on the right track…and therein lies the problem, because when a coach turns a mid-major rebuilding project into a winner, the big boys come calling.
Look at Steve Kragthorpe, who parlayed four years of success at Tulsa into a gig at Louisville when Bobby Petrino bolted for the NFL. Or Brian Kelly, whose first FBS job was at Central Michigan in 2004; he took the Chippewas from doormat to MAC Champion, jumped to Cincinnati after three years and has his 2009 Bearcats in the hunt for the BCS National Championship.
More recently, there was Brady Hoke, who turned a 12-2 season at Ball State into a job at San Diego State. While that’s not a BCS school, the Mountain West Conference is still a step up the ladder.
And that’s what coaches do; they climb the ladder. Especially in the MAC, a conference that also counts Urban Meyer, Wake Forest boss Jim Grobe, Michigan legend Bo Schembechler and a fella by the name of Heisman among their coaching alumni.
Golden has proven that he can turn a bad team into a winner, and he gets double kudos for doing it in Philadelphia, a city that cares little about college football and sees most of the area’s top recruits end up at Penn State or Rutgers.
It’s only a matter of time before the Vanderbilts, Marylands or Washington States of the world come calling…or at the very least, someone in the MWC or WAC looking to turn it around.
And when they do, Golden might be hard pressed not to go. After all, his entire pre-Temple coaching career was spent at Virginia, Boston College and Penn State.
But until they do, or at least through the rest of this magical season, just enjoy the ride.
I know that as a Temple alum who suffered through 11 wins in four years, I sure will.