The Temple Owls did not meet their goal of winning the 2011 MAC Championship. This is a stand-alone point that requires no added explanation and possesses no reasonable refutation.
From the beginning of training camp all the way through to their official elimination at the hands of not one, but two different place kickers—neither of whom, by the way, were even playing Temple at the time—coach Steve Addazio and every single member of his program focused only on the conference title game in Detroit. It was the number one bullet point in every statement regarding the team's motivation, and the opening answer to every question about how Temple would ultimately measure itself.
But sadly for the coach, the team, and, ultimately, their perpetually disillusioned and cynical fans, the dream ended. The Owls, who fought all year for a for an accomplishment no longer in reach, were forced to pick themselves up and switch gears in an attempt to qualify for a bowl game. A month and a half later, they find themselves in (of all places) Albuquerque, New Mexico and without any discernible sense of failure. It's not "sort of" like all the MAC title talk never happened; in fact, it's exactly like it never happened.
Maybe some of that sentiment can be blamed on a convenient amnesia—that the original goal was merely forgotten in this new wave of still largely uncharted excitement—but even the most ardent defenders of Temple's "ever-rising" football program can't argue that the 2011 Owls didn't strive for something and ultimately fail.
Though, on the eve of the team's second bowl game in the last three years, it just doesn't really seem like that particular failure matters anymore. And there's a good reason why (even if it is a little disingenuous).
The beauty of qualifying for this bowl game is that both the university and its supporters have the potential to look back on this season and remember when the Owls made history. Bowl bids, especially in the modern era (when you can qualify even with a losing record), may not mean a lot to other institutions, but they certainly do to Temple. Such an appreciation for what others take for granted is no doubt the product of a history graced with such an opportunity a mere three times over the last thirty-two seasons.
When the Owls broke through with their bid to the 2009 EagleBank Bowl, securing their first postseason appearance in exactly three decades, it was a genuinely meaningful moment for a small, but disproportionately tortured fan base. No, they didn't beat UCLA on that impossibly cold night at RFK, but the very idea that the Temple was even in the game legitimately meant something. Whether students, fans and alums stayed at home to survey the game from indoors, or, as was a popular option for those in attendance, slugged pull after pull of whiskey in the hopes of keeping warm for even a few fleeting moments within the stadium's confines, there is a very good chance that those who watched remember exactly where and how they did so when Temple played in its first bowl game since 1979.
Saturday's meeting with the Wyoming Cowboys carries with it that same kind of gravity. Winning the Gildan New Mexico may not sound like much, but it doesn't really need to either. A Temple win ensures that 2011 will be remembered as the year the Owls ended their drought. Sure, long-term concerns will later set in regarding the future of certain players and the overall direction of the program, but whether or not they won the MAC title will prove wholly irrelevant in comparison to the sheer relief of that moment when Temple finally "did it."
That said, with that kind of emotion of the line, Saturday also carries with it the potential for yet another let down at the hands of the Temple Owls. This is a subject we've covered on this site in the past and one that could end the 2011 season on a profoundly sour note. A Wyoming upset would send Temple back to North Broad with neither a MAC title nor a bowl victory, but rather a familiar slap in the face, a reminder of what happens when Owls fans regretfully anticipate that which never comes.
Getting to the bowl game is still a welcome change, but its also part of the very reasonable expectations the team set for itself at the outset of this year's campaign. While 2009 was a celebration of simply "being there," 2011 needs to be a celebration of both being there and leaving there with a win. Just as it's no longer satisfying being "competitive," merely earning a bid isn't enough. It's once again time for the Owls to take their next step as an up-and-coming program, a step they've had trouble negotiating in any number of opportunities the past three seasons.
With all that in mind, if this to be a totally honest account of the significance of this single game, it's largely inarguable that all the following facts are, well, factual. 8-4 is a fine record for any football team in any conference. The Temple Owls are not the program they once were. One loss in a practically insignificant bowl game means as little as a win on that same stage. The majority of these games, after all, are indeed a sham, a fabrication of an important event which exists solely to make money absent any sense of true achievement. Lost in grand scheme of more important happenings across the landscape of college football, games like the Gildan New Mexico Bowl mean absolutely nothing.
That is, unless you're Temple. For Temple, this game has the power to literally make or break your entire season. For Temple, this game is of the utmost significance in your long-time search for respect and credibility. For Temple, a program for decades lost in the grand scheme of more important happenings across the landscape of college football, games like the Gildan New Mexico Bowl mean everything.