"Everybody's really excited and positive about this year," said Temple fullback Conrad Swanson, who has been named the team's offensive player of the week by coach Jerry Berndt and his staff. "We don't want to go through another 1-10 season. We want to win right away and get the ball rolling."
The Owls were routed, 43-3, by Syracuse last season. And, even though Syracuse lost, 34-16, to USC on Friday, it would be a major upset if Temple were to emerge from Syracuse's Carrier Dome with a victory. After the Orangemen, Temple's opponent will be Austin Peay, Sept. 15, in the Owls' home opener.
Berndt and several of his players would hasten to remind doomsayers, however, that the team going against Syracuse on Saturday (7:30 p.m.) is somewhat different than the one that was blown away a year ago.
The squad that marched into the Vet to face the Orangemen for the second game of the 1989 season was still in shock; the Owls had lost starting quarterback Matt Baker, who suffered a separated right shoulder against Western Michigan in the opener, for the season.
Baker, who completed 14 of 28 passes for 163 yards and a touchdown against Wyoming, is back and as healthy as the psyches of his teammates appear to be.
"We've come together as a team," Swanson, a new addition to the Owls' backfield, said. "Last year, we were kind of divided. Everybody had their heads down. We lost a lot. I'm really looking forward to getting out on the field again after Saturday's loss. I don't think anybody looked at the game as, 'Oh, we're going to have another losing season.' Everybody knows we played well."
It was a matter of thinking about what might have been for both Swanson and the entire Temple team. The Owls might have beaten Wyoming had they not turned over the ball six times - with four lost fumbles and two interceptions.
Swanson, a transfer from Arizona's Glendale Community College who was redshirted last season, lost the chance to celebrate a spectacular 65-yard scoring pass from Baker that might have changed the course of the game against the Cowboys.
The Owls were flexing their offensive muscle in the second quarter when Baker, despite taking a point-blank lick from a charging pass rusher, threw a strike to Swanson, who had turned down the sideline with a beaten defender in tow.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound back outran his pursuers, giving Temple what appeared to be a 10-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
"I turned around and was getting excited with a lot of the guys on our team, and then I saw a yellow flag on the field," said Swanson. "There was nothing I could do."
Holding had been called and the play was nullified. Moments later, after Baker threw the first of his interceptions, the Cowboys scored to go ahead, 7-3.
It was then that the Owls showed that they had plenty of enthusiasm left
from a 36-33 victory over Rutgers in the 1989 season finale.
Instead of bowing their heads, they fought until consumed by their errors; the six turnovers led to 24 of Wyoming's points.
"We're not going to cry about it," said Berndt, who cited Swanson's nullified TD and the turnovers as the reasons for the loss. "It doesn't make or break our season."
Those, said Berndt, are the kinds of wrinkles that can be ironed out with more attention to detail at practice.
The team's effort and spirit, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, he said, were intact.
"We are disappointed," said the second-year Temple coach. "I'm not going to say it was a bitter defeat because I think our team played well enough, in spots, to win the football game. I really felt we lost the game as much as Wyoming won it."
That appraisal was not lost on Syracuse coach Dick MacPherson.
MacPherson said that the Owls run many of the same kinds of plays and sets that USC uses.
That, and the fact that Temple doesn't appear to be a team with a feeble spirit, he added, is cause for concern.
"Matt Baker is back at quarterback and I'm a great admirer of his," said MacPherson. "I love the way he competed up here in 1988. They're getting more things into the offense, so they can cause you some defensive problems. From a defensive standpoint, I thought they had lost some outstanding people, and I didn't think they'd be as good as they are."
It could be that just about everybody thought the Owls wouldn't be as good as they are, but you'll find none of those folks hanging around the Temple football team.
"I think we're a good team," said Swanson, "and people are going to be surprised at how well we do."