TEMPLE WON four more games this season than it did a year ago. The Owls still didn't get to a bowl game. So what's the next move?

"We need to do the same things we did after last year, just do it better," coach Matt Rhule said. "Even if we went to a bowl, we still know what 6-6 felt like. Once you've done it, your expectation level changes.

"I expect our expectation level to be raised significantly.

"I think entering our offseason program now, instead of kind of [getting] 70 percent, I'm looking for 100 and hoping for 90. They've seen that this is what we do, and it works."

One of the biggest things you lose by not going to a bowl is extra practice time. There's nothing Rhule can do about that. But before spring practice, Rhule's players must become physically stronger, especially along the line of scrimmage. A little more mental toughening wouldn't hurt, either.

In 2013, the Owls couldn't keep anyone from scoring on them. This year, the defense became their brand. They have to do the same with an offense that for whatever reasons went in the opposite direction.

They redshirted 15 players from last year's recruiting class, including some offensive linemen. They had the fewest seniors (eight) in FBS. And only a few of them were factors. Next season, they'll have 20-something. And many of those will have prominent roles. It should make a difference. The question is exactly how much.

In 2013, they lost a bunch of games they could have won, many at the end. This year, they lost to six teams that are going to bowls. Half were still up for grabs in the fourth quarter, all at home. Unlike 2013, they didn't lose to anyone they were better than. And they beat a ranked team (East Carolina) for the first time since 1998.

It doesn't change just like that. And the reality is, getting from 2-10 to 6-6 is easier than getting from 6-6 to 10-2. Or maybe even 8-4.

"We all could have done more," Rhule said. "We have to find a way to get over that hump, and I know we will. I think they'll take that [winter program] and run with it. To me, that's how you build a program. We have to continue to develop, and see where that takes us. I'm looking for a lot of guys to make that step."

Next year the American Athletic Conference will split into divisions and hold a championship game. Temple will be in the East with Central Florida (9-3), Cincinnati (9-3), East Carolina (8-4), South Florida (4-8) and Connecticut (2-10). The Owls lost to the first two, didn't play USF and won at UConn and vs. East Carolina. No word yet on whom they'll play in their three crossover games. They lost to Memphis (9-3) and Houston (7-5) and beat Tulane (3-9) and Tulsa (2-10). They didn't draw SMU (1-11). They also lost to Navy (6-5), which becomes the 12th football member.

In nonconference play, they'll go to Massachusetts (3-9) and Charlotte (5-6), which is moving up from FCS. And they'll host Penn State (6-6) - the other team they lost to - in the Labor Day weekend opener and Notre Dame (7-5) on Halloween.

This season, they had issues with the offensive line, issues that will obviously be addressed and hopefully at least somewhat corrected. The Owls couldn't sustain a running game, which in turn impacted P.J. Walker's ability to throw the ball. For him to perform better, they must come up with more playmakers. Simple as that. And while the kicking game certainly improved from the absolute disaster of the previous year, it too needs to come up even bigger.

It's what winning teams figure out.

"The players have to do it," Rhule said. "This is what it is, this is how we're going to handle it. And we'll be better from it.

"It's a tough group. What happened should do nothing but make them even tougher. I expect them to come out flying from this. We have a full offseason to get the bodies right. See what we did wrong and move forward.

"It's the only way."

Because words will get you only so far.

On Twitter: @mikekerndn