In a season in which Temple's football team was punching one opponent after another square in the mouth, the Owls finally absorbed a haymaker they couldn't overcome.

Last season, the Owls traveled to Tampa with an 8-1 record and a No. 22 national ranking and departed 8-2 and unranked after a 44-23 loss to South Florida.

Now, a year later, the roles will be reversed when Temple hosts South Florida at 7 p.m. Friday at Lincoln Financial Field.

This year, South Florida (6-1, 3-0 American Athletic Conference) is the favorite, while Temple (4-3, 2-1) will be looking to pull the upset.

South Florida's win last year didn't stop Temple from winning the East Division and competing in the first annual AAC championship game, in which the Owls lost to Houston, 24-13.

Temple had played Notre Dame two weeks earlier, losing a 24-20 thriller. No team showed the dominance over Temple that USF did last November.

"It was very surprising," said sophomore safety Delvon Randall, who was a reserve in the game and made one tackle. "I didn't think we would go out and play like that."

Of course the Owls gave USF a lot of credit. The Bulls led, 34-20, entering the fourth quarter and did not let up.

They accumulated 556 yards of total offense. Quarterback Quinton Flowers rushed for 90 yards and one touchdown and completed 15 of 22 passes for 230 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions.

So if the Owls are to reverse the result, it will start with stopping the 6-foot, 210-pound Flowers, now a junior.

"He is two guys in one," Temple coach Matt Rhule said. "He is probably one of the top tailbacks in the country and one of the top quarterbacks in the country."

Flowers and Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. are among the most elusive players in the country.

"You try to rush him and he makes everybody miss," Rhule said. "He is dynamic, is a competitor, and he is tough."

This season Flowers has rushed for 655 yards (7.0 average) and seven touchdowns, and has completed 106 of 181 passes for 1,535 yards, 13 touchdowns, and five interceptions.

"You have to have proper leverage on a guy like that, and make sure you are in your gaps where you are supposed to be," said Temple defensive end Haason Reddick, who leads the AAC in both sacks (61/2) and tackles for loss (14).

Flowers also brings a major intangible.

"What I have been more impressed with is his leadership this season and how he is keeping this team together," USF coach Willie Taggart said in a conference call this week.

The problem for opponents is that USF has several other big-play performers. Running back Marlon Mack, who rushed for 230 yards and two touchdowns, while also catching a touchdown pass last year against Temple, has rushed for 592 yards (7.0 average) and nine touchdowns. Receiver Rodney Adams, who scored a 68-yard touchdown on a pass from Flowers last year against the Owls, has 32 receptions for 459 yards and four touchdowns.

Temple is a 61/2-point underdog, but the Owls are coming off a 26-25 comeback win Saturday at Central Florida.

The Owls hope that this year at home, they are the ones doing the figurative punching in the mouth.

"We didn't play as well as we should have last year," Walker said. "We didn't finish in the red zone on offense and I think we will do a lot better this year."

mnarducci@phillynews.com

@sjnard