Temple football digging Big East perks

Temple coach Steve Addazio gives instructions on first day of spring practice.
Temple coach Steve Addazio gives instructions on first day of spring practice. (RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: March 13, 2012

ABDUL SMITH was midway through a train ride from North Carolina back to Philadelphia last week when the messages started to infiltrate his phone. He heard the rumors, but sought confirmation. Finally, around noon on Wednesday, Smith realized it was going to be official. Temple was set to join the Big East, and Smith, a defensive back who transferred from Rutgers, would again play in a conference with an automatic bid to the Bowl Championship Series.

"Playing in the MAC, it's still a great conference, but it's like the Cinderellas that get robbed," Smith said. "But BCS, you win the league, you go play a big game in front of millions of people. It's something you dream of as a kid."

These dreams are the new reality for Temple, whose football program will play in the Big East this season and the rest of the sports will join in 2013-14. But the biggest effect undoubtedly comes in the football offices, where the admission to the Big East is the biggest indication that the Owls have transformed from have-nots to haves.

"Those kids, they all want to play at the BCS level," coach Steve Addazio said after the start of spring practice yesterday. "They understand the challenges. But they all came here hoping this would happen one day, and it has. They also came here hoping we'd get new facilities, and we are. Things are coming together through a lot of people's hard work."

When Addazio took the job after Al Golden departed following the 2010 season, Addazio believed Temple could join a BCS conference. He considered the size of the media market and the program's improvements - both on the field and with facility upgrades. His message to recruits was that the opportunity would come at some time - and if it didn't, they would play programs from those conferences on an annual conference.

That time has come, even for players who signed to play at a MAC school. Quarterback Chris Coyer said when he signed with Temple, he knew it was a "growing program" and wanted to be a part of its rise. He believed it would occur as either a "power in the MAC" or in Temple's current state, which is a newcomer to a conference that is so wide open that it's sent six different conference champions to a BCS bowl in the past nine seasons.

Coyer acknowledged the biggest adjustment would be playing a difficult program each week. Addazio added that it's not as if Temple isn't used to playing major-conference foes - the Owls notched wins over Maryland and UConn in recent seasons - but that those games will now be another Saturday instead of one to circle on the schedule. Temple will also keep their previously scheduled nonconference opponents in 2012, meaning the slate is even more difficult.

You won't find Addazio or anyone affiliated with the Owls program complaining. Offensive lineman Martin Wallace admitted the move would be a challenge, but that's something that Temple welcomes. Players texted each other and chatted about the switch during spring break. If anything, it gives the team an added sense of purpose in preparing for a season that opens Aug. 31 against Villanova.

The move to the Big East could especially be apparent in recruiting. The Owls will have a better chance to get prospects like Smith, a Trenton native with scholarship offers from 12 BCS programs, including Auburn and Penn State. Smith admitted that "high-profile players" would be more apt to consider Temple now that they know the Owls will receive more opportunity and exposure.

Addazio does not anticipate changing the program's recruiting base even though the reshaped Big East will include programs from recruiting hotbeds such as Texas and California. Instead, he thinks it will give the Owls more credentials in competing for top players, because what was once a thought to consider is now an affiliation to sell.

"It was rumors, and I kept it in the back of my head, like, 'What if, what if?' " Smith said. "It's a great thing for us as a program."

Contact Zach Berman at bermanz@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @ZBerm.