Even though Temple insists that its preferred bowl destination—after the disappointing loss to Houston in the AAC title game—was Boca Raton, there was still a little bit of chatter on Twitter that the matchup with Jamie Farr’s favorite school was something of a sign of disrespect to the Owls. Memphis gets to play Auburn, the argument went, and Temple is matched with Toledo. Forget that the Tigers will tangle in Shreveport, and the Owls will be experiencing the Winter Solstice in Palm Beach County. How dare they.
Settle down, everybody. While Temple-Toledo isn’t exactly a marquee matchup, the Owls are playing in a bowl game—and that’s the most important thing here. When a school ends up in the post-season about as frequently as the Kardashians exercise restraint, the Uzbekistan Bowl would be a big deal. Since the Owls will be in Boca Raton and not Tashkent, life is very good.
This season marks a huge step forward for Temple, which hasn’t exactly been a brand-name college football program over the past century. Winning nine games, playing in the AAC title game and reaching a bowl—any bowl—are cause for celebration. But this doesn’t mean the Owls have arrived. There’s still a lot of work to do, and playing Toledo may actually be a gift for them. Sure, it would be great to line up against an SEC school, even if Auburn staggered around a bit this year. But Temple doesn’t just need to get to a bowl. It needs to win the game.
Not that Toledo is a patsy. The Rockets beat a pair of Power Five Conference teams—Arkansas and Iowa State. They walloped MAC champion Bowling Green and beat Northern Illinois and Arkansas State, a pair of bowl teams. Even though head coach Matt Campbell is off to Ames and won’t be leading the Rockets during the bowl, this is still a dangerous team. But the Owls can and should win this—and that would be a big step, Toledo or no Toledo.
That’s what Matt Rhule is all about right now. Every success, no matter how small, is important. There are programs around the country that can get away with losing the bowl game and maintaining their high reputation. Temple hasn’t established itself yet, despite arguably the best season in school history. What the Owls need to do is beat Toledo. Then they need to close well in the recruiting derby and position themselves for another successful season. At this point, Temple must make progress every day, and no victory is too small. You’re not happy that the Owls are playing Toledo? Get over it. More importantly, get a win. Remember, folks, this is Temple, not Notre Dame. And, besides, it’s Boca, baby!
A win over the Rockets would also serve to help Temple gather more momentum in its quest for an on-campus stadium. Say what you want about the logistical calamities of plopping a 35,000-seat monster into North Philadelphia (traffic and parking should be delightful on game day), but the Owls can’t keep trying to paint over the Eagles’ logos and bus their students down Broad Street. Look, El Hombre wasn’t a fan of the idea to put the Phillies’ stadium downtown, and he isn’t enamored of the concept of tailgating in tight quarters or, worse, a parking garage. But Temple’s future football viability depends on its getting a stadium, and the only way to do that is to keep winning.
So, go to Boca. Beat Toledo. Keep the momentum going. Then do it again next year and the year after that. Pile up the wins. The 2015 season was a great step forward. There are many miles left to walk, beginning with about 1,150 from Philadelphia to south Florida.
EL HOMBRE SEZ: Sam Hinkie’s unwillingness to discuss the Jahlil Okafor situation demonstrates a clear lack of leadership within the franchise. His leaving coach Brett Brown to handle the public component of this mess is not the behavior of a sturdy GM. … So, is it a good idea to trade closer Ken Giles during the Winter Meetings for a couple of first-rate pitching prospects? Absolutely. At this point, the Phillies don’t need someone to finish games. They need people who can help them get leads. Then, they can worry about the ninth inning. … The Eagles won a game. They beat New England. Smiles abound. But this doesn’t change anything about Chip Kelly and the state of the franchise. It’s still not up to top NFL standards.