Temple football coach Rod Carey isn’t ready to push the panic button, even though others who follow the program have their trigger fingers ready.

Whether Carey or the team wants to characterize it this way, the Owls are facing their first crisis under their first-year coach. They have lost their last two games by a combined 66 points, and their season, which is two-thirds complete, could go in one of two directions.

At 5-3 overall and 2-2 in the American Athletic Conference, Temple can ill afford any more slip-ups. In fact, even if the Owls run the table in their final four games, it might not be enough to win the AAC East title.

Cincinnati (6-1, 3-0) is in the driver’s seat, but the Bearcats still must face Temple and then play AAC West contender Memphis the next week. Central Florida, coming off last week’s 63-21 pasting of Temple, is 6-2 and 3-1 and very much alive, but the Knights already have lost to Cincinnati, giving the Bearcats the all-important head-to-head tiebreaker.

Temple can’t even worry about its Nov. 23 game at Cincinnati. The Owls can only hope that game still has relevance.

Carey was asked earlier this week on the AAC teleconference if it was too dramatic to suggest that the next game, Nov. 7 at South Florida (4-4, 2-2), will determine where the Owls season goes.

Running back Jager Gardner, here getting tripped up by Memphis defensive back Quindell Johnson earlier this month, and his Temple teammates don't play again until Nov. 7.
LOU RABITO / Staff
Running back Jager Gardner, here getting tripped up by Memphis defensive back Quindell Johnson earlier this month, and his Temple teammates don't play again until Nov. 7.

Without hesitation, Carey responded, “Yes, I would say that is too dramatic.”

But is it?

Temple has a much-needed bye this week, and then will begin the final four-game stretch with that nationally televised matchup at USF. After that, Temple will host Tulane (5-3, 2-2), visit Cincinnati and then finish at home vs. UConn (2-6, 0-4).

So the final four will be challenging. Well, at least the first three should be.

Couple that with the fact that Temple is coming off two lopsided losses, the first a 45-21 defeat at SMU, and it sure seems as if the season is on the line.

Over the last two weeks, doubt has crept into the Owls for the first time this season.

Even after the Owls suffered their first loss, 38-22, at Buffalo, the players talked about not having the right focus for the game. Temple responded the next week by beating former coach Geoff Collins and Georgia Tech, 24-2.

The week before the Buffalo loss, Temple had beaten then-No. 21 Maryland, 20-17. The Owls appeared to enter the Buffalo game a tad overconfident, whether they would admit it or not.

Now, it is the opposite situation. Even though the players and Carey insisted that their confidence wasn’t shaken in last week’s loss to UCF, their body language suggested otherwise. Temple’s players seemed awfully discouraged, and that is bound to happen when you’re outscored by 35-0 in the second half.

That said, Carey isn’t ready to even think about the season being on the line in the next game.

“Every game is important,” he said. “That is not different with this game. We hit a bump in the road, certainly last week and the week before, and we have to get it corrected.”

Then he referred back to the original question, and answered, “I would say that would be too dramatic.”

OK, but one more loss and the Owls will be talking about needing one win to become bowl-eligible instead of contending for a division title that seemed like such a realistic goal before the last two games.