THE DIFFERENCE between 1-11 and 2-10 is negligible. Except maybe for the team that finished with a 20-point win at Memphis after losing four straight in which it was either tied or leading going into the fourth quarter, including two that came down to the final seconds. Particularly if you're a team that'll still only have a handful of seniors next year.
To all the ones coming back, it's something.
"We wanted to let people know where we're going to be headed next year," said Temple sophomore center Kyle Friend, who was on the field for every offensive play.
The record is the record. But there were only three games in which the Owls didn't have a chance in the fourth quarter: the opener at Notre Dame, in South Philly against Louisville and the following week at Cincinnati, the first time that true freshman quarterback P.J. Walker started. Those teams are a combined 27-7.
They lost once on a Hail Mary. They came within a play of winning at Rutgers. They came within one or two of beating nationally-ranked Central Florida. That's how it can go sometimes.
"When I look back, I'm proud of this team," said first-year coach Matt Rhule. "They battled to the end. They had to deal with some things. A lot of 1-10 teams, coming out of the Connecticut game, might fold. Our kids didn't. They want to be good. This morning they were out there at 6 a.m., doing 1,000 yards worth of [pushing a 45-pound weight around].
"It wasn't the [bottom line] we wanted. But we got better as we went on. We showed what we can be. And to finally finish [a game off] was good. We made the plays this time. I'm happy for them. They know what it feels like to take a game like that. We've seen how easy it is to lose a game, how small the margin is. It's a hard lesson to learn. But they were lessons this program had to learn. How do we not come up a yard short the next time? We have to find more players and develop players to help us win those type of games.
"I feel like we're going to raise the price of admission for this team."
Now it's time to attack the recruiting trail and try to bring in the necessary additional pieces moving forward. It's a seller's market.
"We tell kids how they can come in and make the difference," Rhule said. "I told one mother the other night, 'Your son should want to come here and play for us. Look at the way we handled this team through all the adversity we went through.' There was no finger-pointing. The only finger ever pointed was back at us. Back at myself. I think the team responded to that, responded to each other. We handled it with class . . .
"I think [prospects] see an opportunity here."
Nobody wants to endure a season like this. But it happens. It's happened on North Broad before. Rhule was part of that, on Al Golden's staff. They went from 1-11 to 4-8 to 5-7 to 26-12 over the next three seasons. So that can happen, too. And it's the prevailing message.
"It's been rough, but we found out a lot," said soph linebacker Tyler Matakevich. "It wasn't coaching, it was the players. We just have to get everything out of everyone, the way we're taught. We can hang with anybody. I just want to win. That's something this team is capable of doing. You have to earn everything you get. I can't wait for spring ball to start.
"I'm really looking forward to making a bowl. If we don't it'll be a very big disappointment. Today was the first step."
There will be many. That's why it's called a process. And not all of them will be in the right direction. But it has to start somewhere, even if it's just a good end to what was a mostly forgettable journey.
"We learned you've got to bring your 'A' game with you," said Walker, the guy that much of this evolution is going to revolve around. "Now it's time to move on. We can learn a lot more."
They'll receive their next grade on Aug. 28 at Vanderbilt. At some point there needs to be tangible signs of progress. When that time arrives depends on the continuing growth chart.