Second And Bowl To Go?

The college bowl season ended on Monday night with a thrilling finish between Florida State and Auburn in the National Championship Game, capping a 35-game bowl season. The Temple football team won't go from winning two games this season to playing for the national title – even though Auburn pulled off almost the same feat this year. But a return to bowl eligibility is certainly possible.

The college bowl season ended on Monday night with a thrilling finish between Florida State and Auburn in the National Championship Game, capping a 35-game bowl season.

The Temple football team won't go from winning two games this season to playing for the national title – even though Auburn pulled off almost the same feat this year.

After all, the Owls don't play in the SEC and lack that sort of talent.

But a return to bowl eligibility which they achieved as a member of the Mid-American Conference in 2009-2011, being selected to two bowls and winning one, and playing in one of the over 30 games leading up to the national championship is certainly possible.

How so after a 2-10 season in a tough American Athletic Conference?

Well, the Owls needed one stop on the final drive three times to secure a victory and didn't do it. On two of those occasions they needed one fourth-down stop and the other they led Central Florida by a touchdown – the same Central Florida that beat Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl – before giving up 10 points in the final two minutes and succumbing on the final play.

Three stops would have gotten the Owls to 5-7 and if they could have held one of two 21-point leads they lost, to SMU and especially at home to Connecticut they would have punched their postseason ticket.

That's not to mention close losses to Houston and Idaho. That's also a lot of ifs, but it doesn't mean a turnaround isn't possible.

The Owls have a program-changing quarterback in true freshman P.J. Walker, who has a standout wide receiver in sophomore Robby Anderson. Their top player on defense, linebacker Tyler Matakevich, is also a sophomore, and led the country in solo tackles.

There's other young building blocks like sophomore center Kyle Friend, sophomore defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis and freshman running back Zaire Williams.

"Next year there's only five scholarship seniors," said head coach Matt Rhule shortly after his first season ended. "I think when you say do we have a quarterback? Yes. There's enough positions where guys played at a high level and other guys who could go in and get the job done. With another strong 25-person recruiting class, you have a lot of depth. Sprinkle in some difference-makers and you have a strong (team)."

Walker is the most important piece to the puzzle as barring injury he should be the first quarterback to finish two consecutive seasons as a starter since Adam DiMichele in 2008.

"It's what you have to do to take your program to the next level," said Rhule of finding a quarterback. "Week in and week out you have a chance to win. It's a great thing to know we have P.J. to build around, and if you're a receiver you can come play with him the next three years."

They'll need to find a kicker and punter, whether those players are on the roster or need to be recruited. They need to shore up the secondary and the pass rush.

A look at next season's matchups has many similarities to this one – there should be a good number of toss-up games for the Owls which could change their fate from a team that earns a bowl bid and one that falls just short or far short.

"My message to them is you control your effort, you control whether you win or lose, now they'll control the offseason," said Rhule. "They feel like they missed a lot of opportunities and gave a lot of games away. What I don't want to sell them is ‘Hey, we're this close.' Really, that's a big step to make up. We weren't able to make those plays. We will replay so many of those scenarios in those games this spring."

Two days after a season-ending victory over Memphis salvaged something from Rhule's first year as head coach, the Owls were back to work at 6 a.m. making sure next season doesn't end the way this one did – in November.

In less than a month, Rhule will add his second recruiting class and in two months he'll open his second spring.

In 11 months, they could be back playing in a bowl game. The college football season ended on Monday night but the Owls have been working on 2014 for well over a month.

"I don't want to take credit for that because every game we didn't go to a bowl game with (former coach) Al (Golden), the next season started 6 a.m. the next week," said Rhule of the early-morning workout two days after the Memphis win. "We have to have the mentality we're training for next season while everybody else is finishing theirs. It was a great way to get started and It will be that way every single day until we play."

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