Don’t take this Temple football season for granted | Mike Jensen
The Owls will find out Sunday where they'll be for a fourth straight bowl appearance.
Let us pause in the midst of our busy lives to note that … Temple's football team just finished 7-1 in the American Athletic Conference.
There's no way to take that feat for granted. For the last few years, the AAC has been the sixth-best league in the country, and the Owls are the second-best team in that league, behind an undefeated Central Florida squad that is ranked in the top 10. And even their game was memorable, with Temple missing a two-point conversion for a fourth-quarter tie at Central Florida before UCF ultimately won by a dozen. It was UCF's only home scare.
After losing their first two games, going 8-4 overall, maybe the Owls don't quite belong in the Top 25, but let's stipulate that the 25th-ranked team wouldn't be too excited to play them. I'd go further, and argue they are certainly one of the 25 best football teams in the country right now.
This season, there was no Penn State game or Notre Dame game to get the non-Temple-affiliated portion of the city excited — that's Temple's plight, and it isn't changing — but it doesn't take an ounce away from the achievement by Geoff Collins and his crew.
I admit to being a Collins skeptic at the very beginning. Not his resume. It was top-notch as a defensive coordinator at Mississippi State and Florida. It was more how Collins presented himself when introduced, including talking about John Chaney as some kind of a hero growing up. Was this guy for real?
He turned out to be a man just trying to make a good first impression. He also turned out to have the goods as a head coach, ready to slide over to the main spot. If you can drop your first two games and not lose your locker room, that's more proof. Predecessor Matt Rhule had proven he was the real deal, and Rhule and Collins are close friends, which must say something. They're just different.
"Two different coaching styles,'' said senior defensive back Delvon Randall, who wears one of those coveted Owls single-digit jerseys, No. 2. "Coach Collins, he brought the swag here. Coach Rhule was more old-school, traditional football. He didn't worry about social media."
Randall also mentioned the new uniforms Collins ushered in. He wasn't knocking the coach who had recruited him.
"Both good,'' Randall said. "Just different styles."
That included on the field, Randall said, noting that defensive backs used more zone concepts under the last regime, more man-to-man concepts now. Again, not good or bad, just different. The combo might be perfect for a defensive back with hopes of playing at the next level.
Asked about his own first impressions of Collins, Randall had to think for a second. Two seasons are a lifetime for a college football player.
"I remember it was a quick buy-in,'' Randall said. "We didn't have a choice but to trust the guy."
Good point there.
"As time went on, he was cool,'' Randall added. "He coached a lot of DBs, got them to the NFL. That got my attention. I did my research. I bought in early because that's where I wanted to be."
Also, my early impression of Collins was off. Some coaches start with a big impression that fades. He's kind of the opposite. He doesn't tell you what he doesn't want to tell you, but he's certainly a good communicator and, like Rhule, there's plenty of authenticity to his style, beyond the swag stuff.
Back to 7-1. The Owls have won with big offense and stand-your-ground defense. They've also won 35 games over the last four seasons, the best four seasons in the school's history. Again, can't take that for granted. You can have differing opinions on the need for a stadium, the cost of football, etc. But you have to give the Owls their due. These players adapted to two different coaching staffs and got the job done.
"There was great talent on every team,'' Randall said when asked to compare the talent levels of the teams when he first got to Temple to now. Randall started ticking off players now in the NFL. He's right. But he also made clear that the Owls believe there's been no drop-off, that Temple players will be able to look back four years from now and see plenty of current guys at the next level.
They've also earned the right to be legitimately proud of not questioning the path after the early stumbles to Villanova and Buffalo.
"I've been here playing longer than a lot of guys,'' Randall said. "I was very upset. People knew it wasn't who we were. I knew we could still be a really good team."
No fancy fixes.
"Just an attention to detail, better communication,'' Randall said, meaning on the field.
On Sunday, these Owls will find out what bowl they'll be going to, for the fourth straight season. If you have any sense of the history of Temple football, there's no way to take that feat for granted.