TEMPLE THOUGHT it had done what it had to do, by winning 10-3 at 3-9 Tulane on Saturday night to get to 6-6. But being bowl-eligible for the first time in three seasons still wasn't enough. So, for the second time in five seasons, the Owls won't be having a postseason even though they were qualified.
In 2010 they lost their last two to finish 8-4. Only one other team, 6-6 Western Michigan (which was also in the MAC), didn't make the cut. This time they finished sixth in the AAC, which had affiliations with five bowls. Next season it'll have more, which doesn't help them right now. It also had two other secondary tie-ins but things happened in other games that took those possible bids away.
"No one selected a team over us," said second-year coach Matt Rhule, who was an assistant in 2010. "It was no one's decision. The spots just weren't there. That's what it is, and this is how we're going to handle it. It's a different set of circumstances. At the same time, it's every bit as hard. Everyone in the room had tears in their eyes. Not because they weren't going to a bowl but for the seniors.
"It's extremely disappointing. I don't want to minimize that at all. I don't want to use the word heartbreaking, because there's a lot of things in life that are really heartbreaking. But it's really disappointing, for those kids.
"We absolutely deserved to go, in today's day and age. I want them to know that. But we're not. We have to be grown-up about it. We beat an SEC team [Vanderbilt]. We beat a top-25 team (East Carolina). I don't want people to kind of rob them of those accomplishments. I want them to hold onto that. We had a chance to win nine. We didn't do that. But if we'd won one more we wouldn't necessarily be going. We just hit it at the wrong time."
Yes, Vandy finished 3-9. Still, it was by 30 on the road. Yes, the Owls lost five of their last seven. But all their losses were to teams that are going to a bowl. Three were by a touchdown or less, all at home, including a three-pointer in November to eventual conference champion (via a tiebreaker) Memphis. Another was to Cincinnati, which finished in a three-way tie for first. And they won four more than they did a year ago.
Sources indicated that the Dec. 27 Military Bowl in Annapolis, Md., was interested in the Owls. But for the Owls to go there, one of the AAC teams that are going bowling would've had to go somewhere else. Rhule stressed that Temple's administration worked to come up with a viable alternative.
"I'm glad they had a chance to walk off as winners, in a game that came down to the last play," Rhule said. "They sang 'High Hopes' in the locker room. They didn't know it was going to be their last game.
"I can only hope I can have the same dignity, the same maturity, the same . . . I just don't have the words, to describe the way I feel about the integrity that our seniors had in handling the news. At a time when I had a hard time talking in front of a roomful of guys. Kenny Harper stood up and thanks the team. He talked about learning from this. I thanked them for who and what we were.
"I hope any future success we have, they'll take a piece."
The Owls, who open next season against Penn State in South Philly, had the fewest freshmen (eight) in FBS. Only five were on the depth chart. Next year they'll have 20-some, a decent number of whom are among their better players/leaders. It can make a difference.
"In my mind, two things come out of this," Rhule said. "Kenny said it best. Take advantage of your opportunities, each and every game, because you never know. And in moments like today, you hope they realize we're in this together. You can see that we're all suffering. That, to me, is when you can build something that's going to withstand time.
"That might sound whatever, but it's real."
The most painful stuff always is.
By MIKE KERN