As a Rhule, Temple focusing on winning

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Posted: August 30, 2013

WHEN FORMER assistant Matt Rhule became the Temple football coach 8 months ago he talked about winning championships because, as he duly noted, that was the only thing missing from the trophy case.

Fair point. This season the Owls' new coach will take a new quarterback and a new look and begin playing in a new conference, the American Athletic, which will soon look a lot more like Conference-USA than the old Big East. But the next 12 games are not about titles. That will have to wait, because the program just isn't there yet.

Last year marked a return to an automatic BCS conference, which ironicially won't be the case when a four-team playoff replaces the current system next season. Nevertheless, the Owls now have to continue moving in the right direction, which might actually become more feasible once Louisville and Rutgers depart for the ACC and Big Ten, respectively. Don't forget that they did win 26 times from 2009-11, including a bowl game, even if they never could make it to a MAC final.

This storyline is mostly about progression. In many ways 2012 was like starting over. And the Owls did about as well as most projected they would. This year, not shockingly, they've been picked to finish ninth in a 10-team neighborhood. Once they start playing, that really doesn't mean a whole lot. Rhule is trying to build something, establish a bridge to the future. Yes, there are still any number of obstacles on the schedule that Temple probably isn't capable of dealing with yet. But the Owls did win four times a year ago, and had their chances in two others, including at Penn State. So . . .

"This is apples and oranges, compared to last season, in terms of what we're asking them to do," said Rhule, the kind of guy it's hard not to root for. "It's so completely different. We think we're a good football team, and we're going to play that way. Other people might not think that. It might not happen right away. We trying to teach them . . . to win games. That's true for every game. We have to let it play out.

"I think what we have to do each and every week is rally around each other and play together."

It starts Saturday at No. 14 Notre Dame, where they're 30-point underdogs. But it really begins the following week back home against Houston, in the first AAC game. It's always nice to get a chance to tee it up against the Fighting Irishes and Penn States of the food chain, but ultimately the conference is where Temple's growth chart is going to be monitored.

"You can't really look at where people pretty much pick us," said linebacker/captain Tyler Matakevich, who was the Big East's Newcomer of the Year. "But in the back of your head, it's always there. We're hoping to be successful. All we can do is go out there and play."

It doesn't matter if anyone else believes. It's why you take the field, whether it's Idaho or Louisville. You can't lose sight of the end game. The only thing this thing might need is time.

"Nobody knows what we're about, outside the [practice-facility] fence," said QB Connor Reilly, who'll be making his debut as a junior. "Inside here, the Temple family, we do. That's all we care about."

As it should be, since they're the ones who've got to walk past that trophy case.

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