LEGACY. It's a bequeathment that figures to keep on giving, well into the future.

The seniors on Temple's football team won six games in their first two seasons, playing in two conferences (Big East, American) for two coaches (Steve Addazio, Matt Rhule). After being recruited to play in a third conference (Mid-American).

And last year, the Owls were one of the few teams that didn't go to a bowl even though they were 6-6, the second time in five years they stayed home for the postseason despite being eligible.

Along the way there were almost too many frustrating moments to list. Yet eventually they found their way and turned their final journey together into something historical.

No, they didn't win a championship. But they played in Saturday's inaugural AAC title game, losing 24-13 at Houston (12-1). Now the 24th-ranked team in the nation will take a 10-3 record into the Dec. 22 Boca Raton (Fla.) Bowl against 9-2 Toledo (from the MAC), which has spent some time in the Top 25 itself. And these Owls can still become the first team from North Broad to win 11 times. And the second (first in 36 years) to be in your final poll.

In 2013 they lost 10 of their first 11. What else do you need to compute?

"This is a special group of kids," said Rhule. "All the things they've done, on the field and off. We'll have 26 kids that are graduating. I'm going to spend the next week in tuxedos and suits going around with (linebacker) Tyler Matakevich to this (awards) event and that event. (And) it goes way beyond just him. It's so many of them. That's why this game will be . . . an experience they'll (cherish) the rest of their life.

"It's a great end. Their accomplishments will be remembered for a long time. It's one more chance to go out and play together. For me, that's the ultimate prize."

Last year they beat an SEC team for the first time since 1938. On the road, by 30. And beat a ranked team for the third time, first time at home and first time since 1998. This season they beat Penn State for the first time in 74 years. And started 7-0 for the first time. They were ranked for four straight weeks, another first. Did we miss anything?

"It feels very good, just to know that we changed the program," said senior cornerback Tavon Young. "It's a very relieving feeling, after all the tough times, all the heartbreak. Especially after last year. At the end of the day, we put it on ourselves. And we did it. We won some big games, lost some big games. It feels great, to look back . . . (and see) it finally came together."

Even though they didn't make it to a New Year's game, and there is a difference, they've established a new barometer. For a place that's been to four bowls and won two.

" (These guys) don't know what a bowl is yet," said Rhule. "Next year, they will. We expect to do this every year."

Before you get to that point in the progression you obviously need to make it happen once. Which might be the hardest part.

"Just doing things that haven't been done here, you kind of leave on the right note," said center Kyle Friend, who played Saturday after missing several weeks with a knee injury. "It's a sense of accomplishment to play in a bowl game. But you want to win it."

He believes just playing in the title game will even have an impact.

"It sets this program up to kind of get the jist of how it's going to be in years to come, for some of these younger guys," Friend went on. "This class has been through a lot of ups and downs. We learned a lot of lessons the hard way. But we got things done here. As seniors, we did what we wanted to do.

"We've got a lot of tough guys. That's kind of a thing with us. We got on each other pretty hard at practice. I think the one thing we were able to do as seniors and friends was kind of keep that on the field. That's why we were able to be successful. We hold guys to a really high level of accountability. And it wasn't something that came between any of us. I hope that gets passed on. That's something a team needs in order to be successful.

"It wasn't just a couple of leaders, but everybody getting on everybody. None of it's personal."

If nothing else, the next ones in line noticed.

"I think toward the end of the season you're looking around at guys who are leaving," said junior quarterback P.J. Walker. "They won't be here forever. I think they're the most competitive guys I've been around. They challenge each other every day. I saw seniors get after seniors. You sit back and take it all in.

"That's the way I want things to be when I'm a senior."

It's why they call it a legacy. And it's what makes a program so much more than just a one-time story line.

"The way it started out a few years ago, it's a huge deal," said senior safety Will Hayes, a one-time walk-on. "In 10 or 20 years, the reunions are going to be pretty epic."

On Twitter: @mikekerndn