Owls vow to improve over last season

Posted: August 01, 2014

NEVER again.

According to quarterback P.J. Walker, that was pretty much the theme of Temple's offseason.

"Now we have to step up to the plate and do whatever it takes," the sophomore accurately noted yesterday on the eve of training camp.

The Owls went 2-10 last season in the new American Athletic Conference, with a very young team and a first-year coach. But they lost four games by three points or less, twice on long passes at the end. They lost to FCS Fordham and at Idaho, which didn't beat anyone else. They lost twice after leading by 21. They nearly beat Central Florida, which went 12-1 and won a BCS bowl.

In their last six games they were ahead or tied 81 percent (306 of 380 minutes) of the time. Not that it mattered much.

The Owls - who will take a one-game winning streak into the Aug. 28 opener at Vanderbilt - are still young. But they're a year older. And maybe in a better position to turn some of those near-misses around.

"Like I told them, I believe there's not a team on this schedule that we can't beat," said head coach Matt Rhule, who was an assistant when the Owls won 26 games over 2009-11. "But there's not a team we can't lose to as well. They learned that last year.

"We don't recruit kids telling them we're going to fight to win five games. We're going to compete for a championship, play in bowls. I don't want to wait. I want to start now. I hope they do, too."

They had three interceptions last year, and made three field goals.

"If we change those two things alone, we change our season," Rhule said.

They've been picked to finish eighth out of 11 teams. Louisville and Rutgers are now in the ACC and Big Ten, respectively. East Carolina, Tulsa and Tulane are the newcomers. The Owls will play all three. Their Oct. 11 AAC opener is against Tulsa in South Philly.

"Last year, we were kind of immature," said running back Kenny Harper, one of only seven seniors. "The [young guys] didn't know how hard it is to win in college football. You have to make it count. A couple of plays can make a difference."

Added junior center Kyle Friend, the lone returning starter on the offensive line: "There's no reason why we can't contend."

Or at least make a run at bowl eligibility, since more teams get to one than don't.

"It was definitely frustrating," said junior Tyler Matakevich, the second-leading tackler in FBS. "We'd outplay teams, but when it came down to the wire we didn't finish. It's tough to swallow. With some guys the mentality was, 'Here we go again.' "

So how do you reverse that? At some point, it comes down to guys making plays. For the entire 60.

"I don't know who the great players are going to be," said Rhule. "I do know we have a lot of good players. Learing how to win, sometimes you have to get battle- tested to figure that out. When the moment comes, be ready and just embrace it.

"A lot of programs, they've won forever. We've had it the other way, when those last-second touchdowns ripped our hearts out."

And who needs more of that?


On Twitter: @mikekerndn

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