Running back Bernard Pierce's decision late last evening to leave Temple University for the NFL Draft after his junior season came as virtually no surprise. In fact, it would have been a surprise had he chosen to stay.
Temple fans, Owls beat writers and university officials themselves knew there was a substantial chance that the New Mexico Bowl would be Bernard's last game in a Temple uniform. As we wrote over a month ago, the next time you see Pierce at Lincoln Financial Field, it'll be on a Sunday (unless, of course, he's a part of future Saturday Wild Card Weekend games...or Monday Night games...or, as commenter "TU11" reminded just reminded us, Thursday Night games — just covering our bases here).
Anyway, with Bernard's career at Temple now behind him, we thought, better than writing some long-winded retrospective about existence and meaning and whatever else I usually do when I feel the urge to wax philosophic about Temple football, to provide you with the full slate of Pierce's record-breaking accomplishments, and to weigh those against the feats of some of the best runners in the nation.
Bernard Pierce in numerals and an analysis of his draft stock after the jump...
Temple University Single Season Records Set by Pierce:
— Most rushing touchdowns (27)
— Most total touchdowns (27)
— Most points scored (162)
— Most 100-yard games (9)
Temple Owl Single Game Records Set by Pierce:
— Most rushing touchdowns (5)
— Most points scored (30)
Temple University Career Records Set by Pierce:
— Most rushing touchdowns (53)
— Most total touchdowns (54)
— Most points scored (324)
— Second-most rushing yards (3,470 — Trails only Paul Palmer's 4,895)
— Second-most 100-yard games (18 — Trails only Paul Palmer's 21)
For much of the early season, especially after his five touchdown outburst in the Maryland game, Pierce was leading the nation in rushing touchdowns, ahead of even Wisconsin's Montee Ball who would ultimately challenge Barry Sander's all-time record for rushing scores in a season. By season's end, Pierce's 27 running touchdowns would trail only Ball's 33, putting the Temple back second in the nation in that category. He would fall just out of the top 10—12th and 13th—in yards per attempt and attempts per game.
Critics will argue that Pierce's success was inflated thanks the lesser status of the MAC conference and that his numbers, both nationally and in the school's all-time record books, are consequently misleading. Such an argument is really quite amusing to anyone who has actually seen him play football. As Temple head coach Steve Addazio puts it, "He's got speed. He's got size. He's got make you miss." Really, Bernard has absolutely every tool to succeed in the NFL, except for maybe just one: durability.
If there's a knock against Pierce, its been his troubles staying healthy. Not once in his three-year college career did he manage to play in every game in a season. His sophomore campaign was so riddled with injury issues that one wondered whether Bernard could ever reach his true potential. Thankfully for him, his junior season was a welcome return to form. Staying mostly healthy in 2011 allowed him to break some of the school records he had already set when he was also mostly healthy as a freshman in 2009.
For the most part, Bernard's astonishing success when on the field and his increased time actually on that field over this past season has worked to quell some of those durability concerns. Nonetheless, there is no way Pierce's prior injury issues did not play a substantial part in his decision to leave school. Projected in private by a coach as a third-round pick, the same as Ball before he ultimately decided to return to school, Bernard obviously had that same option to come back to school, set some more records, and further improve his draft stock. That said, yet another injury, especially a serious one, would only have decreased, rather than increased, his draft value.
In the meantime, he will obviously have the opportunity to move himself up the board with strong performances at the combine and in pre-draft workouts. Should ultimately wind up a third-rounder as projected, he will be of a high value for the team who ultimately takes him.
As for the school he's leaving, replacing one of the program's all-time greats will be added to the list of issues facing the Temple program in the coming years. Without Pierce, it will be up to Steve Addazio and the Temple staff to build on this program's momentum, momentum generated with great help from Bernard himself.