Win and they’re in.
It’s that simple for the Temple football team on Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field.
Win the final game of the regular season and earn a trip to Houston for next Saturday’s inaugural American Athletic Conference Championship game.
Lose and the Owls finish the regular season 9-3, watch South Florida play Houston next Saturday and wait to hear their name called for a bowl bid – there will be no snub this year for the 25th-ranked team that has spent four of the last five weeks in the national rankings.
There will be the added emotions of it being senior night for a talented, special class topped by linebacker Tyler Matakevich, one of the best defensive players to ever wear the Cherry-and-White.
Center Kyle Friend, wide receivers Robby Anderson and John Christopher, defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis, defensive end Nate D. Smith and cornerback Tavon Young are among the other top players suiting up as an Owl for the final time in Lincoln Financial Field.
“I’m very proud of that group,” said head coach Matt Rhule at his Tuesday press conference. “The seniors are the legacy of the program. They’re all graduating, they’re all going to be successful in life. I just challenge them not to get too emotional. Their legacy will be they taught or team what it takes to win.”
Temple will be playing a 6-5 Connecticut team that became bowl-eligible last week by stunning previously unbeaten and 19th-ranked Houston, 20-17, though the Cougars played most of the game without stellar junior quarterback Greg Ward Jr.
“They’re like us, they like to play special teams, like to play defense, like to run the ball,” said Rhule.
Ward returned on Friday to throw for 300 yards and three touchdowns in a rout of Navy that clinched the American West title. Temple will be trying to lock up the East Division crown on Saturday.
“The best part is we can do something that’s never been done,” said Matakevich, a Connecticut native who always plays well against his home-state team. “You can’t let your emption gets the best of you. You treat it as another game.”
The Owls answered a challenge from Rhule last week after a lopsided loss down in South Florida gave them two losses in three games after a 7-0 start. Temple rallied against nationally-ranked Memphis, knocking the Tigers from the rankings with a 31-12 win at the Linc.
“We just have to make it about playing against Connecticut, a team that’s talented, tough and physical, then we’ll play well” said Rhule. “Then we have a chance to win the ballgame.”