AL GOLDEN must have felt like Bob Vila when he was hired as Temple football coach in December 2005.

The former Penn State tight end, who most recently had been the defensive coordinator at Virginia, was being handed a hammer, a couple of rusty nails and the charge to do whatever he could with a decrepit shack of a program that couldn't even be described as a fixer-upper.

The Owls had little tradition to speak of, a miniscule, mostly disinterested fan base, and so many years of being pounded upon that the Big East Conference cast them out like beggars at a full-dress ball. There were faculty rumblings that maybe the best course of action might be to simply stop swimming against the tide, for the university to drop down to Division I-AA, or maybe even to discontinue the sport.

Golden's reconstruction project is now in its fourth season, and This Old House has turned into the Miracle on North Broad Street. The football facilities have been upgraded, as has the talent level, and Temple - now a member of the non-BCS Mid-American Conference - brings a 9-3 record into the Dec. 29 EagleBank Bowl against UCLA (6-6) in Washington's RFK Stadium, the first postseason appearance for the Owls since their predecessors of three decades earlier defeated California in the defunct Garden State Bowl in 1979.

Now comes the most daunting challenge for Golden and his new kids on the block: To retain the focus of a team that has been there and done that, even though they are as new to the party as it gets.

The Owls depart today for Washington and several days of practices and bowl events. Among the presumed advantages UCLA brings to the table is the fact that the Bruins are no strangers to this sort of thing, the Pacific-10 Conference school appearing in its 11th bowl game in the past 13 seasons.

But when improvement comes as incrementally as has Temple's - Golden's first squad went 1-11, followed by seasons of 4-8 and 5-7 before this year's breakthrough - any patch of blue sky offers hope for brighter tomorrows.

You even can manage a smile when the doubters and skeptics continue to rain on your parade.

In a column that appeared on ESPN.com last week, Pat Forde dismissed Temple's rise under Golden as one of those aberrations that can't be explained but isn't likely to become a long-term trend.

"Canada could invade from the north on Christmas Eve and it would be less shocking than the sight of Temple in a bowl game," wrote Forde, who picked UCLA to manhandle the Owls, 23-7.

Ouch.

"That sounds like a compliment," Golden, 40, said at Temple's bowl media day last week at Edberg-Olson Hall. "I've heard a lot of things worse than that the last 3 years. But, no, you have to earn your respect. You can't just have one good season. You have to build a program. That's the challenge for Temple University. We want to [win] with consistency. And we will do that. We're going to keep building and get better."

To appreciate how far Temple has come, you have to go back to where it was just a few years ago. According to one computer rating, the hootless Owls that Golden inherited from Bobby Wallace in 2006 were the worst Division I-A (now Football Bowl Subdivision) team in the entire country.

"It's not to say we're No. 119 out of 119, which is where we were the first year on the job here," Golden said of Temple's elevation from college football's cellar to its current brush with respectability.

Golden has stocked his staff with several assistant coaches who, like him, have Penn State connections. It wouldn't be a stretch to say he has applied much of what he learned under his old coach, Joe Paterno, into the remaking of Temple football as sort of a Happy Valley East.

Take, for instance, the anecdote about team discipline and how the Owls will need to retain as much of it as did the Nittany Lions when Golden was a tight end at Penn State from 1989-91.

"It's zero tolerance on curfew," Golden said of what he expects of his players once they arrive in D.C. "We're looking for men, for guys that are responsible and accountable. We don't want to baby-sit. They know when they're down there that they're ambassadors for Temple, our 250,000 alumni, our faculty and our current student body.

"I have a vivid memory of [when Penn State went to Florida for the 1990 Blockbuster Bowl]. It was the first night down there and everything was kind of lax. There was like a 1 or 2 a.m. curfew, but some guys didn't make it.

"We got to the end of the buffet line the next day at breakfast and those guys had their plates taken away and got handed tickets home. That was the end of it. There was no discussion.

"I just hope we don't get silly. Eighty percent of [game] week is about the football game. The other 20 percent is about bowl activities and what not. We can't go down there with the idea that this is just a vacation."