The Temple University football team has made major strides in recent seasons as it tries to establish itself on a regional and national level.
The Owls played in a bowl game for the first time in 30 years in 2009 and won one in 2011, success which helped set up a move from the Mid-American Conference to the Big East (now the American Athletic Conference).
Temple was also bowl eligible in 2010 and 2014.
Contending for a conference championship is an obvious next step this season, but from a perception standpoint what happens this Saturday as well as on Oct. 31 at Lincoln Financial Field could go farther than even a division title and appearance in the American’s first championship game on Dec. 5.
The Owls open the 2015 season against Penn State on Saturday, a team they haven’t beaten since 1941. The teams haven’t played every year, but Temple has still suffered 31 straight losses to the fellow Pennsylvania institution and gone 39 games without a victory – there was a 7-7 tie in 1950.
Temple has been more competitive recently in the series and nearly knocked off the Nittany Lions the last time the game was at Lincoln Financial Field in 2011 before falling 14-10.
To some degree, the Owls are still overshadowed by Penn State in the Philadelphia area and a win on Saturday could move them more towards equal footing from a perception standpoint. A win over the Big Ten school would send a clear message the Owls have arrived, and with a veteran team on the rise they could be hosting Penn State at a perfect time.
“I don’t look at it as putting ourselves on the map, I think Temple is already on the map,” said senior wide receiver Robby Anderson. “This is just an opportunity to prove who we are. We aren’t caught up in Penn State and who they are. We’re focused on ourselves.”
Attendance has certainly improved in recent seasons, but Penn State and Notre Dame – the Owls’ opponent on Halloween – will sell out the Linc or come pretty close. The atmosphere should draw in the casual fan and entice possible recruits that the program is ready to compete with the top teams.
Because of the local implications, beating Penn State might do even more than a huge upset over the Irish.
“It’s an opportunity, that’s the way I look at it,” said junior quarterback P.J. Walker. “You get an opportunity to beat a team from a powerhouse conference, but it’s the first game of the season and hopefully we’ll come out well-prepared and ready to go. If we do everything right, I think we have a great chance.”
Before the season, head coach Matt Rhule downplayed the high-profile games, noting a win over Penn State wouldn’t mean much if it’s not followed up with a win in the conference opener at Cincinnati. The Owls have struggled over the years backing up impressive performances.
“I think it’s great. Just the fact those teams, which can pick who they want to play, will come here is a statement,” said Rhule. “The fact they are coming here in the same year is a statement about Temple, about Philly and all the things we have going for us. They’re coming here for the recruiting and the media market. We live here.
“We’re just trying to be a consistent week-in, week-out team, but I think it’s great for our fans, it’s great for the University they can market it. The kids come here to be the best and if they’re a competitor, they want to play those guys. I think for our team, there isn’t a team on our schedule we can’t beat and there isn’t a team on our schedule that can’t beat us. We’re going to expect to win those games.”
If the Owls do go on to a winning season and beat either Penn State or Notre Dame, then the victory could be the significant springboard for the program’s future.
What would a win over Penn State mean?
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