THE LAST time Temple made it to a bowl game, it wasn't as if the Owls were merely excited to be part of the postseason. Still, it was their first one in 3 decades. So maybe it shouldn't have come as a huge surprise that they lost to a 6-6 UCLA squad in the nation's capital.
This one feels, well, different.
This time, they're the team traveling across the country, to meet Wyoming (also 8-4) out of the Mountain West in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl, the first of 35 bowls this holiday season. And the Owls aren't going out there to sample those green chilies, as appetizing as they might be. They want to come home with a fourth straight win to close things out. The last time a Temple team that finished with a winning record also finished with a victory was 1990. But that club didn't do it in a bowl.
"As far as [another] loss is concerned, if that were to happen, we've been there before," said third-year sophomore Chris Coyer, who took over as the quarterback in the middle of the loss at Ohio on Nov. 2. "We would press forward, as we always have, and jump right into the offseason preparing to do that much more next year. But a win would give us some great momentum, and that's something we haven't had going into an offseason in awhile here. So that would be huge for us. So that's the focus.
"These seniors [including 13 starters], they've been through so much since they've been here, they've really seen this built from almost right at the bottom to bringing it all the way here. Sending them out with a win like this, with a ring in hand, would mean a lot."
The Owls, who've yet to reach a MAC final, are treating this like a title game.
"Absolutely," said Coyer, who injured his left (throwing) shoulder early in the regular-season finale against Kent State but is expected to make his fourth consecutive start. "Unfortunately, we didn't get to experience the championship game we were looking for. So we're really approaching this like it's our championship. That was one of the goals we set out to accomplish this year. We're going to do our darndest to go out and get that."
The Owls, who might be playing with record-setting running back Bernard Pierce for the final time if he decides to enter the NFL Draft a year early as anticipated, have won seven times by at least 18 points for first-year coach Steve Addazio, the former Florida offensive coordinator. Three of their losses were by a total of 11 points, including a four-pointer at home to Penn State. A win over Wyoming would be their first over a team that finished with a winning record.
The Cowboys, who beat Fresno State in this game 2 years ago in double overtime, won at San Diego State and Air Force, two of the four other MWC teams that received bids. They lost at home to Nebraska (by 24) and TCU (by 11), and at Utah State (by 44) and Boise State (24). True freshman Brett Smith broke Andy Dalton's MWC record for total offensive yards by a first-year player, with 3,140.
"Our kids want to get that ninth win, they want to get that legacy," Addazio stressed. "They want that to happen for this program. They're not going out there on some lark now.
"This game does not define our season. Bowl games are in place as a reward for the seasons that teams had. It seems like more and more, it's getting away from that. That bothers me, from a philosophical standpoint. You want to win that game, but your season is your season. We had a great year. But obviously, it's important to finish this out the right way. To me, this game is kind of a separate entity from what you accomplished during the season. But great things have already happened here this year. They happened and they're locked in. This is one more piece along the way, of the growing process at Temple."
The Owls have been to three bowls and won once. That was 32 years ago, which was also the only time they played Wyoming. So yes, a happy ending would represent something, well, different. And that kind of change is certainly welcome. But whatever goes down in Albuquerque, it remains as much about the future as the present. For whatever reasons there were aspirations that didn't get fulfilled this season, even beyond getting to Detroit for the MAC finale. For now, though, the target is singular. And people do tend to remember last impressions, even if they take place before Santa Claus makes his way down any chimneys.
"We've got a lot of balls in the air, so to speak, right now," Addazio said. "But as I told the staff, the good news is, as hard as it is right now, at the end of the week we'll have a chance to fly back and reflect on a great season, be a normal human being and maybe get a Christmas present for your wife. So as hard as it is at the moment, that's as nice as it'll be then.
"Our job was to make sure we kept these guys fresh mentally and physically. You don't want to lose your stinger. That's the challenge for us. We think we've managed it the right way."
Now it's time to see if makes a difference.
Who: Temple vs. Wyoming
What: Gildan New Mexico Bowl
When: Tomorrow, 2 p.m.
Where: University Stadium, Albuquerque. Capacity: 37,457
TV: ESPN. Radio: WPHT (1210-AM)
Records: Both teams 8-4
History: Wyoming won the only meeting, 28-23, in the Cowboys' home opener in 1990.
About Temple: The Owls, under first-year coach Steve Addazio, went 5-3 in the MAC and finished second in the East Division . . . They won their final three games, all at home. They beat Kent State in the Nov. 25 finale, 36-14 . . . They were 3-2 on the road . . . In many games they were able to play downhill with their ground game. Bernard Pierce, who has filed paperwork to apply for early entry into the NFL Draft, rushed for 1,381 yards and scored 25 TDs. Fellow junior Matt Brown had 867 yards and five TDs . . . Chris Coyer finally stepped in as the quarterback in the ninth game, and seems better equipped to run the kind of offense that Addazio favors . . . The defense, despite losing two players in the first two rounds of the draft, only allowed more than 21 points twice (both losses). Five times, they held opponents to seven or fewer . . . The Owls have only won one bowl game in three tries, and that was in 1979 . . . Brandon McManus, who was also forced to handle the punting this year, made 13 of 19 field goals, with a long of 41. Three of the misses were from beyond that . . . Tight end Evan Rodriguez had 33 catches for 427 yards . . . The Owls have scored on their opening drive eight times . . . Only three other Temple teams have hit nine wins (1973, '79, 2009).