The 2011 Temple Owls were clearly one of the most exciting football teams in school history.

In his first year, coach Steve Addazio has changed the culture by bringing "Temple Toughness" and "Philly Pride" to the North Broad campus. In the process, the former Florida assistant head coach/offensive coordinator led Temple to a milestone.

The Owls concluded the season with a 37-15 New Mexico Bowl victory over Wyoming, marking their first bowl win in 32 seasons. Temple (9-4) also finished the season with nine victories for the fourth time in the program's history.

"We covered a little bit of ground here," Addazio said during his end-of-season news conference. "We established our program. We established our ability to finish. We established the opportunity to go to a bowl, to win a bowl.

"And I think we took that next step, sort of speaking."

Some will point out that having a successful season isn't something new for Temple. Former coach Al Golden led Temple to an EagleBank Bowl appearance in 2009 and 17 wins the previous two seasons. But those teams struggled down the stretch.

This season, Temple finished with four consecutive victories. The last time the Owls ended a season with four or more victories was in 1975, when they won their last five to finish 6-5.

"Some people doubt it, but I don't. There will come a time when this thing will be rocking and rolling as a major city supporting a major college football team," Addazio said. "I know it will happen. It's just a matter of staying consistent and continuing to grow."

However, the Owls must replace 14 senior starters - including four offensive linemen and defensive standouts Adrian Robinson at defensive end, safety Kevin Kroboth, and linebackers Adrian Robinson and Stephen Johnson.

Addazio downplayed the losses.

"If you're going to be a good program, you have to have the ability to reload," he said. "And we will."

But Temple might have a tough time replacing junior tailback Bernard Pierce if he forgoes his final season for the NFL draft.

Addazio said he didn't know what Pierce plans to do. Although he wouldn't disclose what was said, Addazio did confirm that he had a conversation with Pierce about the draft.

The coach said it is his job to present all the facts and support whatever decision Pierce makes.

Addazio also said that an underclassman should go into the draft if he's guaranteed to be selected in the first round. If not, he said, he thinks the player should stay to get his degree.

Judging by Pierce's Twitter account, one can only assume Addazio thinks the standout should return to Temple.

"Coach told me I only have the potential to go 3d round ... that's motivation! Always the under dog" Pierce tweeted Tuesday.

If Pierce doesn't return, junior Matt Brown will become the featured back. Addazio believes that Brown, despite standing 5-foot-5 and weighing 170 pounds, can handle the workload.

"I think he's the best back in the conference next year," the coach said, before catching himself: "He and Bernard are the best backs."

Contact staff writer Keith Pompey at 215-854-2939, kpompey@phillynews.com, or @pompeysgridlock on Twitter. Read his blog, "Owls Inq," at www.philly.com/owlsinq