Bowling again, Temple aims to end inconsistent season on high note

Temple single digit tradition continues with Geoff Collins
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Forget for a moment the name, because no kid ever grew up dreaming of playing in the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl— whatever that is — in St. Petersburg.

Look at the big picture instead.

For the seniors it’s one final chance to wear that cherry-and-white uniform; in this case an opportunity for the most successful class in Temple history to add a bowl game victory to its resume — kicking off at 8 p.m. on ESPN the night of Dec. 21.

For the rest it’s an extra two-plus weeks invaluable practice time. They can now pick up where they left off winning 43-22 at Tulsa Nov. 25, which could not only pay dividends when they take on 8-4 Florida International of Conference USA, but next season.

And for first year coach Geoff Collins and his staff it’s an opportunity to continue to build the culture that’s had some rough spots since he replaced popular Matt Rhule. Speaking of his predecessor, he promptly learned that all the money Baylor was paying him wasn’t enough to prevent the Bears from going 1-11 his first season, just as his first Temple team went 2-10.

But by year three on North Broad St. Rhule had the Owls winning 10 games and headed to the Boca Raton Bowl, where they lost to Florida. A year later Temple won the AAC championship, only to fall to Wake Forest in the Military Bowl.

Back in the post-season again, despite going just 6-6, Collins’ Owls can accomplish something Rhule never did. Considering he’s been to 12 consecutive bowl games as an assistant he definitely knows the drill.

“He’s been to the past 12, so he knows how to handle it,” said senior offensive lineman Leon Johnson. “We just follow his lead. In 2015 when we played Toledo we were more happy to be there than compete. In 2016 we wanted to compete, but just came up short. So this should be the one.”

While the Panthers are a relative unknown to most, their coach certainly isn’t. Butch Davis has been around more than a few blocks, having spent six years at Miami and four at North Carolina, in addition to serving as Jimmy Johnson’s defensive coordinator on the Super Bowl winning Cowboys — and getting the lowly Cleveland Browns to the playoffs during his second of his four seasons at the helm.

But that and the 67-year-old Davis’ 5-2 record in bowl games is for Collins to worry about. The players say they simply need to focus on their own preparation, hoping the leadership of those seniors and the late-season development of quarterback Frank Nutile can carry them over the finish line.

“For me it definitely means the world to play in one more bowl game in my senior year,” said all-Conference defensive end Sharif Finch, who had 7.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for losses. “We’ve been in a couple the last few years, but weren’t able to win. Being a part of the winningest class in school history and having the opportunity to do that this time and leave it as part of my legacy would be special. As seniors we need to make sure the younger guys know it’s a business trip and make sure we come back with the Gasparilla trophy.”

For Nutile, who replaced injured but struggling Logan Marchi at mid-season and guided the Owls to a 3-1 finish that made them bowl eligible, it’s the culmination of a memorable season. 

“We’ve had a championship mindset the last 4-5 weeks to make sure these seniors go out right,” said the redshirt junior from Wayne, NJ who threw for 11 touchdowns and 1,346 yards. “To be able to play one more with those guys really exciting. I’m so proud of how we rallied round each other.  So we don’t want to take our foot off the gas pedal.  But Florida International is a great team, with a great coach. They’ll be ready to play.”

With so much at stake the Owls vow they’ll be ready, too. 

“It would be huge to win a bowl game; something that hasn’t been done here in a long time (2011 New Mexico Bowl under Steve Addazio),” said senior defensive lineman Jacob Martin, who missed last year’s Military Bowl with a broken foot.  “We’ve accomplished so much. We’ve learned so much from the classes around. Learned from their mistakes and what they excelled at.”

Now there’s only one thing left. So forget the name. To these Temple Owls the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl means everything.

They don’t plan to come home without winning it.

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