Two weeks ago the talk surrounding Temple's football team was about becoming bowl eligible, a task that didn't seem like a given considering the Owls' inconsistent play.

Yet after two successful games against Florida teams, one an improbable comeback and the other simply an upset, the vibe around Temple has changed considerably.

Now comes the tough part: finishing the deal and earning a second straight trip to the American Athletic Conference championship game.

Temple had the look of a soon-to-be under .500 team before scoring a last-second, 26-25 win at Central Florida on Oct. 15.

Then the Owls upset preseason East Division favorite South Florida, 46-30, on Friday at Lincoln Financial Field.

Now Temple is 5-3, 3-1 in the AAC. If Temple beats Cincinnati, Connecticut, Tulane, and East Carolina in its final four games, the Owls will win the East Division, earning a championship game berth.

The final push begins Saturday at the Linc when the Owls host a rejuvenated Cincinnati team that is 4-3, 1-3. The Bearcats have their former starting quarterback, Gunner Kiel, back at the helm and he's coming off a 348-yard, four-touchdown effort in a 31-19 win over East Carolina last week.

Temple coach Matt Rhule had a talk with his team about its suddenly new position of front-runner.

"When you are 1-2 or 3-3 and everybody has written you off, you kind of just are a little more freer," Rhule said Tuesday at his news conference. "There is not a lot of pressure on you and you can lock into what you are doing and say, 'Hey let's get a win.' "

That is no longer the case for the Owls.

"When you are 5-3 and everybody is going to say to you that you control your own destiny and are in first place, you start to put a little pressure on yourself and don't play free," Rhule said.

So Rhule's message is that the team shouldn't play any differently this game than in the previous winning weeks. He reminded the Owls that they weren't playing tight, especially down by 25-20 with no timeouts and the ball on their own 30-yard line with just 32 seconds left against Central Florida.

Keith Kirkwood's 1-yard reception with one second left was the game winner.

Quarterback Phillip Walker said the team has to keep a level head about its new driver's seat status.

"It feels great, but at the end of the day the picture can change at any moment," Walker said. "You have to go out and play at a high level, and if you don't, we won't be controlling our own destiny and will be fighting like we did before."

Rhule let the players know that he wasn't entirely happy with practice Tuesday. He doesn't know if it had anything to do with coming off such a big win, but the fourth-year coach addressed the issue.

"Normally on Tuesday it is a tremendous practice, and today wasn't a tremendous practice," he said.

Temple hasn't had a bye and won't until after its Nov. 4 game at UConn. The Owls have suffered several injuries, especially on the defensive side of the ball, but the coach wants no excuses.

"I am trying to remind them that it is the process that wins games, not pressure," he said.

As far as he's concerned the wins over the two Florida schools are in the past. And Rhule wants a consistent approach each week, something that has gotten Temple back in the picture two-thirds into the season.

@sjnard