In 1967, Temple went 7-2. The Owls also were 4-0 in the old Middle Atlantic Conference, which gave the program its only championship. That was four years before Temple started playing at the Division I level. To claim the trophy, the Owls beat Delaware (26-17) and Bucknell (13-8) on the road and Hofstra (35-23) and Gettysburg (45-27) in West Oak Lane.

George Makris, who would go 45-44-4 in 10 seasons, was the coach. His quarterback was senior Tom DeFelice, who later coached football for 18 seasons and baseball for 34 at Edward Bok Tech.

Those Owls supposedly were strongly considered for a spot in the Tangerine Bowl (now the Citrus) in Orlando, Fla. But unbeaten West Chester and once-beaten Tennessee-Martin were picked instead.

It's a different world now.

Saturday at noon, a 10-2 Owls team that is ranked 20th will play at No. 17 Houston (11-1) in the inaugural American Athletic Conference championship game. The winner is virtually assured of going to the Peach Bowl in Atlanta on Dec. 31. The loser is headed somwhere yet to be determined.

Temple can defend with just about anyone. Houston does a lot of damage when it has the ball, but also is among the best at forcing turnovers. So it might come down to how well the Owls can control the clock and keep quarterback Greg Ward Jr. off the field. And they've shown an ability to do exactly that.

If this turns into a shootout, Houston figures to have an advantage. Maybe even a large one. And the home crowd, which could be 40,000, usually doesn't hurt. The Cougars haven't scored fewer than 33 points at TDECU Stadium this season. They put up at least 49 four times. Last year, they beat the Owls there, 31-10, although that seems like a long time ago.

"It's a real challenge to go on the road," said Owls third year coach Matt Rhule, whose team has tied the 36-year-old program record for victories. "Since the South Florida game, we've got back to who we are and what we do."

The Owls lost at USF on Nov. 14, 44-23, after winning their previous six on the road.

"I think our team's been through a lot of great experiences," Rhule said. "I think we're playing our best football right now . . .

"I'm happy for people who believed in Temple football that we've gotten to this point. I really didn't have a (timetable)."

It sure beats 2-10, Temple's record in Rhule's first season. Or even last season's 6-6. If it's a little ahead of schedule, so be it. The Owls were picked to finish third in the East Division. Cincinnati, the preseason favorite, went 7-5. So much for projections.

"I think Houston is an awesome team," said quarterback P.J. Walker, who's pretty darned good himself. "I feel like we're an awesome team, as well. We've had some setbacks. That made us stronger, honestly."

Sure sounds like everything a final is supposed to be.


No. 20 Temple at No. 17 Houston

American Athletic title game

Noon Saturday, TDECU Stadium, Houston

TV: 6ABC (Sean McDonough, Chris Spielman, Todd McShay)

Radio: The Fanatic-97.5 FM (Harry Donohue, Paul Palmer, Harry Mayes)

Student broadcast: (Zach Gelb, Michael Zahn, Carly Mascitti)

Forecast: sunny, mid-60s

Records: Temple 10-2, Houston 11-1

History: Houston leads, 4-0, including a 31-10 win at home last year.

At stake: Winner earns AAC crown and likely spot in Dec. 31 Peach Bowl.

Line: Houston -6. Over/under: 55.5

About Temple: Owls beat Connecticut at home, 27-3, to clinch East Division ... Haven't allowed a touchdown in last two games ... Senior LB Tyler Matakevich is AAC Defensive Player of the Year ... Have never won 11 games ... Only conference title was in 1967 in the old Middle Atlantic, four years before they began playing at Division I level ... Junior QB P.J. Walker has thrown for a program-record 51 career TDs, 18 this season ... Austin Jones needs three FGs to tie the school record of 23 in a season (Don Bitterlich, 1975) ... The winner almost certainly gets a spot in the Peach Bowl on Dec. 31 ... Either way, Owls will go bowling for first time since 2011.

About Houston: First-year coach Tom Herman (former Ohio State offensive coordinator) reached agreement Friday on a contract extension through the 2020 season with a raise to $2.8 million a year ... Cougars beat Navy at home to secure West, 52-31 ... Lost the week before that at UConn by three without starting QB Greg Ward Jr. (ankle), who's thrown for 16 TDs and rushed for 17. He completes almost 70 percent of his throws ... They average 42 points a game ... Have won 10 conference titles. The last was in 2006 (Conference USA) ... Have won 12 games once (13-1 in 2011) ... Seven wins were by 21 points or more ... Defense has forced 28 turnovers ... Demarcus Ayers has 89 catches for 1,140 yards.

Staff picks

Ed Barkowitz: Houston, 24-21

Bob Cooney: Temple, 24-21

Dick Jerardi: Houston, 31-17

Mike Kern: Houston, 30-27

David Murphy: Houston, 34-28

Bob Vetrone: Temple, 30-24