It would have been perfect, for Temple players and fans. Too perfect. It never seemed to get any traction, the idea of the Temple Owls playing former coach Matt Rhule’s Baylor team in a bowl game.
There had been a path, since bowls are matched up with conference affiliations and the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas, had affiliations with the Temple’s American Athletic Conference and Baylor’s Big 12.
Temple will face Duke on Dec. 27 in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La. A fine enough matchup, I guess, a chance to beat a Power 5 school. But nothing that could move the needle like a Rhule matchup. Baylor instead will play Vanderbilt in the Texas Bowl, also on Dec. 27.
All along, Marc Narducci had reported the word out of the Temple camp for a game with Baylor was “unlikely,” which was a shame, and short-sighted, in my opinion. There was genuine excitement from all sorts of Temple constituencies for a matchup with Rhule. As soon as Baylor won its sixth game on Nov. 24 to become bowl-eligible, I tweeted out the Armed Forces possibility, adding, “Make it happen people.”
Among the quick retweeters were Owls current defensive standouts Shaun Bradley and Chapelle Russell and former Owls player Jullian Taylor, a rookie now with the San Francisco 49ers.
Others who liked the idea of it included Temple professors and students and many, many, many enthusiastic alumni.
However, once Oklahoma beat Texas on Saturday and Georgia lost to Alabama, the path for a Temple-Baylor matchup really narrowed, since Oklahoma moves into the playoff and the seven bowls affiliated with the Big 12 have only six Big 12 teams to choose from. It’s the Armed Forces Bowl that won’t have a Big 12 team, with Army facing Houston instead.
It is uncommonly rare for a players and fans to get behind a bowl matchup. The average one just doesn’t mean that much. It is more memorable that Temple played last year in the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl than that the Owls beat Florida International in it. The year before, Temple lost in the Military Bowl. I had to think for a second to remember that the opponent was Wake Forest, and I covered the game. The year before, it was the Boca Raton Bowl. You remember every play of that Toledo loss, right?
How long will the Duke game resonate? Probably into January, win or lose. I can’t blame the Armed Forces Bowl for wanting exactly what it got: Army in its game, for the second straight year. That makes perfect sense.
Let’s add, however, that these bowls are set up for television, with ESPN televising 35, and ESPN Events owning and operating 14 of them. ESPN owns both the Armed Forces Bowl and Texas Bowl.
Rhule vs. Temple would have been made for decent television, at least in this market.
Now, maybe Rhule would have had little interest in playing his former team. Sort of a no-win for him. Except doesn’t Rhule actually owe Temple a bowl game? It was that Military Bowl against Wake Forest when Temple, favored in the game, lost after Rhule had already left for Baylor. I don’t begrudge him that. That’s how the system works. Except this matchup could have offered some cool payback beyond the buyout in his contract.
Maybe Geoff Collins and the Temple brass didn’t have much interest in losing to the former coach? Also, don’t care that much about that. Coaches and administrators often get bonuses for bowl appearances. They’re all highly paid already. This would have been for the players and fans. (Sure, for us writers, too.)
I only dwell on this because of the rarity of it. Beating Wyoming in the 2011 New Mexico Bowl -- congrats to the Owls. Losing to UCLA in the 2009 EagleBank Bowl. One thing those games had in common was that neither Temple head coach ever coached in another bowl. In fact, assuming Collins is still Temple’s coach in Shreveport, that some Power 5 school hasn’t whisked him away, he will be the first in Temple history to coach in two bowl games. Rhule got the Owls to two, coached in one.
Also, Rhule moved the dial here, especially when Temple beat Penn State and almost got Notre Dame. Facing the coach who moved the dial, then left, would move the dial.
The players don’t get their chance for revenge, even the good-natured kind, against the man who recruited so many of them to North Broad Street. Instead, Temple gets to travel to Louisiana for a big matchup with the sixth-place team in the ACC’s seven-team Coastal Division.
An easy win? Not so fast. Duke, coached by the estimable David Cutcliffe, was 3-5 in league play, and lost its last regular-season game, 59-7, to Wake Forest, but got to 7-5 overall with some impressive non-league wins, over Army and Big Ten runner-up Northwestern, both now ranked ... and, wouldn’t you know, over Matt Rhule’s Baylor Bears.
A win wouldn’t be bad at all against a Power 5 team -- just not the same as actually beating Matt Rhule’s Baylor Bears, not even close.