HOUSTON - Temple's football team, on the brink of playing in its first ever conference championship game has showed the fortitude to come back from seemingly dire situations to win games this year,

Plenty of them.

Earlier this season, the Owls had to come back from fourth-quarter deficits three times in a five-game span.

Yet coach Matt Rhule, who has seen his team fight and scrap toward a 10-2 record, did have one concern about his veteran group heading into Saturday's American Athletic Conference championship game.

Most recently, Temple had to fight hard, winning essentially two elimination games over Memphis and Connecticut to hold off charging South Florida, win the East Division title, and earn the berth into the inaugural championship game.

Even after coming through in must-win situations, Rhule took his team's collective pulse this week, wondering how the players would react to the championship game pressure.

"I think if anything I was a little bit concerned, you put all your eggs in one basket and this becomes a huge game and then the moment gets too big," Rhule said during Friday's news conference at TDECU Stadium.

Rhule does figure the Owls will draw strength from winning those late-season must-win games, but he mentioned that Houston was also in the same situation.

The Cougars (11-1) met Navy in a winner-take-all game for the West Division title last week. Final score: Houston 52, Navy 31.

"Both teams have had to play their best football down the stretch to get to this game," Rhule said. "I think both teams will be prepared from that standpoint."

One key will be holding Houston in check early. Temple is not a fast-starting team. The Owls have outscored teams by just 154-144 in the first half. In the second half, Temple has outscored opponents, 233-81.

It sometimes takes Temple time to get going. Against a Houston team that averages 42 points per game, the Owls may not be afforded that luxury. Still, that is who Temple is, a lunch-pail type bunch, that wins on will, fighting in the second half when fatigue has hit the opponent.

"We will try and drag you into the fourth quarter," said Rhule, whose team has outscored teams 121-56 in the final period. "If we are not down in the fourth quarter by 14, we have a chance."

Rhule said that one game that prepared the Owls for this moment as much as any, was last year's 31-10 loss at Houston.

"We came here last year and there were cameras in the locker room and guys were painting their face before the game which we don't do, and we were doing all this silly stuff and we got sent back home," Rhule said.

The Owls were sent home with a loss that tasted like sour milk.

With the motivation of that loss, plus the simple incentive of attempting to win a championship game, Rhule liked what he saw when he monitored his team's psyche this week.

"I wouldn't expect us to be too happy [just] to be here," he said.

Realizing that being in this setting could make anybody nervous, Rhule had a simple message that he feels got through to his players this week.

"I have been trying to get them to say it's all what we control and how we play," Rhule said. "I think the kids echoed that sentiment so if any team can do it, I think this team can do it."

@sjnard