ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The Temple Owls went 8-5 for the second straight year, were in contention for a division title until losing game 11, 15-13, to Cincinnati, and journeyed to their fifth straight bowl game.
Does that constitute success?
It depends on who is doing the grading and what the curve is.
Temple has shown in four of the last five years that it has the ability to compete for an East Division title in the American Athletic Conference, by far the best Group of Five conference.
The Owls claimed the division title in 2015 and won the conference championship in 2016. The 2017 season is the only one in the last five in which the Owls didn’t compete for a division title. Temple went 7-6, 4-4, while UCF was 8-0 in the East.
Last year, the Owls finished second in the East at 7-1, with the only loss a 52-40 defeat at champion UCF.
This year, Temple (8-5, 5-3) was third in the division behind Cincinnati (7-1) and UCF (6-2). Had the Owls not had such a special-teams fiasco in their loss at Cincinnati, they would have ended in a three-way tie and would have had to navigate through the tiebreaker process to determine the division winner.
Considering that Rod Carey was the fourth coach in four years (counting the 18-day tenure of Manny Diaz), one would say the Owls did fine.
Yet the Owls also had a real chance to win the division and let it slip away. And then the season ended on a sour note with Friday’s 55-13 loss to North Carolina in the Military Bowl.
Carey, for one, feels the season was successful.
“The further away we get from this moment, we will look back on this season,” he said after the loss at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. “We already know it is successful, but we will feel a lot better about it.”
It might take quite a long time after being routed in a second straight bowl, following last year’s 56-27 loss to Duke in the Independence Bowl.
“You just have to give us a little time away from this one,” Carey continued. “It has been a good season. Certainly, we want to strive for more, but it was a good season.”
Good, but not great. For Temple to take the next step, it has to finish the deal when contending for a title. The expectations should be higher. The days of just being happy with being bowl eligible should be over.
The biggest area of improvement next year must be special teams. The Owls also need to be more consistent on offense and defense.
Redshirt junior Anthony Russo threw for 2,861 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions, which on paper doesn’t seem bad, but there were too many long stretches when the offense didn’t move the ball.
It will be interesting to see whether quarterback Todd Centeio, who was given at least one series each half since the Owls’ Oct. 3 win at East Carolina, will challenge for more playing time. He looked solid in his limited sample size.
Defensively, the team had its rough spurts, which included allowing 108 points in consecutive losses to SMU and UCF, not to mention the bowl performance. There were also several strong games.
There’s also the issue of whether the redshirt juniors, center Matt Hennessy and defensive end Quincy Roche, will declare for the NFL draft. They have until Jan. 20.
If those two return, Temple will have the makings of a team that should contend again. And even if they don’t return, there are enough veterans to make this a potential contender.
While it’s easy to focus on the negatives, there has been no bigger positive than Jadan Blue, the redshirt sophomore receiver who set a Temple single-season record with 95 catches for 1,067 yards. Pairing him with Branden Mack (59 receptions, 904 yards, seven touchdowns) will give the Owls a formidable duo.
Freshman running back Re’Mahn Davis burst on the scene to lead the Owls in rushing with 936 yards and eight touchdowns.
Another surprise was redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Ifeanyi Maijeh, who entered the season with seven career tackles and earned first-team all-AAC honors.
Maijeh, Blue, and Davis should be among the team leaders, and others will surely emerge. Plus, one never knows who the Owls might pick up via the graduate transfer route.
That said, contending every year and winning the title in some of those seasons should be the expectation.