Posted November 19, 2009

Football makes headlines as program on the rise

With eight straight victories, the Owls stand poised for college bowl competition

  • Photo by Joseph V. Labolito/Temple University Temple freshman running back Bernard Pierce (Ardmore, Pa.) carries the ball in the Owl’s home field match up against Miami. Pierce, who has broken Temple’s freshman running records, has been named MAC Offensive Player-of-the-Week three times this season..
  • Photo by Joseph V. Labolito/Temple University Coach Al Golden congratulates wide receiver James Nixon following a play during a Nov. 5 match up with Miami at Lincoln Financial Field.

Three decades after its last bowl appearance — a 28-17 victory over California on Dec. 15, 1979 in the now-defunct Garden State Bowl — Temple’s football team stands on the brink of a return trip to college football’s version of the postseason.

After beginning its season with two losses, the Owls have won eight straight games following their 56-17 victory over the University of Akron on Nov. 13. The winning streak is the longest since the 1973 team, which also won eight in a row.

Temple’s sixth win—a come-from-behind 27-24 victory at Navy on Oct. 31 — made the Owls bowl eligible for the first time since the 1990 team went 7-4, although that team was not invited to participate in a bowl game. That season also marked the last time Temple's football team finished the year with a winning record.

Temple will not have to worry about a bowl invitation this time around, however. The Owls are now a football member of the Mid-American Conference (MAC), which has affiliations with three different bowls: the Little Caesar Pizza Bowl (formerly the Motor City Bowl) in Detroit, the International Bowl in Toronto and the GMAC Bowl, which is held in Mobile, Alabama.

Temple currently leads the MAC’s East Division and could find itself playing in the nationally televised (ESPN2) Marathon MAC Championship Game on Dec. 4 at Detroit’s Ford Field. The winner of that game receives an automatic invitation to the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, also held at Ford Field and televised on ESPN, against a bowl-eligible Big Ten Conference team.

If the team fails to reach the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, they will surely be in line for an invitation to either of the other MAC-affiliated bowls.

This is a huge step in the right direction for a football program that went winless just four seasons ago and had only one winning season in the past 25. Since the arrival of Head Coach Al Golden from the University of Virginia in 2005 and the move to the MAC in 2007, Temple has been a program on the rise.

“There was so much adversity,” Golden has said about Temple’s reversal of fortune. “This team is 8-2 in its last 10 games with these seniors, who started off 1-16 and lost every game by 30 points. Everybody said we stunk. Everybody said quit, get out of football, drop down [to Division I-AA]. Our kids just put their heads down and kept working.

“This team is different. This team has unity. I was here two years when guys were throwing helmets and yelling at things that didn't matter. Now, I see a team that has poise and that believes in the brand, and that has stuck with it,” the coach said.

And the national sports media has taken notice. The New York Times and ESPN’s “Gameday” have produced feature stories on the Temple turnaround.

For his part, Golden has gotten notice for the job he has done. Following the win over Navy, he was a guest on the nationally syndicated John Kincade Show on ESPN radio, and he has been named a semifinalist for the 2009 George Munger College Coach of the Year Award as well as a candidate for the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year Award. Golden previously was named to the Watch List for the Paul “Bear” Bryant College Football Coach of the Year Award.

The success has even led to national football writers casting votes for Temple in the weekly college football polls. The Owls received 23 and 17 votes respectively in the Associated Press and USA Today Top 25 Rankings on Nov. 15.

Also quickly gaining national attention is freshman running back Bernard Pierce, from Ardmore, Pa., who has already broken freshman running records held by former Owls standout Paul Palmer. “He's obviously the focal point of our offense,” Golden has said about the 6-foot, 210-pound freshman, who is ranked fourth nationally in rushing and has tied the Temple single-season touchdown record of 15 held previously by Paul Palmer and Walter Washington.

Pierce, who has been named MAC Offensive Player-of-the-Week three times this season, has been featured in stories on,, the Philadelphia Daily News and the Doylestown Intelligencer.

And while a bowl game is clearly in Temple’s immediate future, Golden wants to make sure that the success currently being achieved extends well beyond this season.

“Ultimately, we want to be the type of team that becomes relevant and takes the next step,” Golden told The New York Times. “We don’t really discuss bowl games. But people are going to put two and two together. That’s our vision for the program.”