Temple still wants to make history
For all the Owls have accomplished, they still have more to do to cap off a great season.
FOR ALL it has done in the first 11 games, Temple hasn't won anything yet.
The Owls are 9-2. The only time they had 10 victories in a season was 36 years ago. Still, the reality is this: If they lose Saturday night to Connecticut in South Philly and don't get into the first American Conference title game, then lose whatever non-New Year's bowl they'd go to, they'd finish 9-4, having dropped four of their last six.
So how "successful" would that be?
Of course, it doesn't have to be that way. The 25th-ranked Owls could beat UConn (6-5), which just gave No. 21 Houston its first loss, to clinch the AAC East. And next week bring home a championship trophy by beating either No. 16 Navy (9-1) or Houston, which would likely put them in either the Peach Bowl on Dec. 31 or the Fiesta the following day.
Now that would be special.
"I mean, when you think about how far we've come and stuff like that, to go from 2-10 (in 2013) to be in the position we are now, when you look back at it you can really say, 'Wow, look what you've done,' " said linebacker Tyler Matakevich, one of the many seniors who will play at the Linc for the final time. "But the best part is, we can make history here, do something that's never been done. As long as we stick to what got us (to this point), we could accomplish anything we want."
The Owls also would win their division if South Florida (7-4, 5-2), which holds the head-to-head tiebreaker, loses on Thanksgiving at winless Central Florida. But . . .
"We want to control our own (fate)," said junior quarterback P.J. Walker, who set a program record by throwing his 50th career touchdown pass in Saturday's 31-12 home win over Memphis (8-3). "We know what we're playing for. When we came in, we said at some point this program's going to get where we are now. We talked about having this opportunity.
"I think sometimes when we're out there, we're thinking about those hard times together, going 2-10, not going to a bowl (last year with a 6-6 record). Man, we don't want that to happen again. That's not the way it's going to go."
The Owls, who are 25th in the last CFP rankings, were picked to finish third in the East behind Cincinnati (6-5) and UCF. If they don't lose again, they'd finish with as many wins as they had the last three seasons combined. That would be memorable, too.
"The legacy of these seniors is that they taught our team how to win," third-year coach Matt Rhule said. "And what it takes to win is to not make too much out of the game. Just to play. We've seen that the last two weeks. We had a chance to clinch at USF (44-23 loss on Nov. 14), and we just didn't play football. I look at it as, this is a great football team when they play great.
"What's the difference (between USF and Memphis)? One game, we tried to just do our own thing. There were a lot of 'I thoughts' and 'I saw.' Last week, (it was) 'I'm just doing my job.' And if we didn't win, we probably weren't going to the championship game, or it wasn't (going to be) in our hands anymore.
"Last year (in the finale) at Tulane, with a chance to get bowl-eligible, we were trying too hard. I actually had to call the team out at the beginning of the second quarter (of an eventual 10-3 win). Erase what's on the line. Just play the plays. That's the challenge . . .
"We've learned (what it takes) firsthand," he went on. "They know what it looks like when we do it and when we don't do it. This is a chance to again establish that we know how to win. If we make it about Senior Day, or 'the last time I'm ever going to play at home,' or 'if we do this, we get this,' then we won't play well. If they make it about the actual game, we'll have a better chance of getting the things that come along with winning."
This continues to be new territory. It began with that first win over Penn State since before Pearl Harbor and the first 7-0 start ever. And being ranked for the first time since 1979. Then being ranked four weeks in a row, another first. Their only conference championship was in 1967, in the old Middle Atlantic. According to the media guide, that was four years before they even were playing at the Division I-A level. And the only time they've played on New Year's was after the 1934 season, when they lost to Tulane in the inaugural Sugar Bowl.
There are two or three games left to more clearly define what the journey could be remembered for most.
"It's a playoff game," said Matakevich, who wasn't recruited by UConn or any other FBS program, for that matter, but is now one of three finalists (Penn State's Carl Nassib is another) for the Chuck Bednarik Award that'll be presented on Dec. 10 by the Maxwell Club to the nation's top defensive player. "That's where our heads are at. You can't let your emotions get the best of you. When that happens you start doing things that are uncharacteristic. The biggest thing you can do is treat it like another game."
Even when everyone knows it's anything but.
More on Matakevich
Among the accomplishments that landed Matevich as one of the finalists for the Bednarik Award are 107 tackles, making him only the seventh college football player to ever register 100-plus tackles in four seasons.
He also leads the nation in interceptions among linebackers with a career-high five, and also reached career highs in sacks (4.0) and tackles for loss (11.5).