Temple faces major challenge to become bowl eligible

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Temple's (l-r): Sean Chandler, Jacob Martin and Chapelle Russell go after Charlotte's Kalif Phillips on Saturday, September 24, 2016 in Philadelphia. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer

During the preseason, several Temple football players stated how it was their goal to defend their American Athletic Conference title.

The Owls were picked to finish third in the AAC East Division and many players felt that was a slight after winning the division two years in a row and the overall title last year.

It turns out, those goals might have been a major stretch. Temple has been forced to seriously lower its expectations. In fact, the Owls will be fighting for their lives just to finish the regular season 6-6 and be bowl eligible.

Temple was 6-6 in 2014, but didn’t earn a bowl bid, so even if the Owls get there, nothing is guaranteed.

The problem is getting there.

Temple is 3-4 with five games left. The math says they need to go 3-2 in those five games, but finding three wins could be much more challenging.

“Everybody knows we are chasing six wins,” said senior defensive end Jacob Martin, who leads the team with 5.5 sacks. “Our end goal is win out the rest of the season and be able to secure a nice bowl spot.”

While that is a noble goal, it isn’t realistic.

And that’s not even counting if starting quarterback Logan Marchi plays in Saturday’s game at Army. Marchi and standout safety Delvon Randall weren’t at the end of practice due to undisclosed injuries and coach Geoff Collins said he expects both to play on Saturday.

The reason the goal of running the table isn’t realistic is that Temple plays three teams with winning records. This year, the Owls have zero wins over Football Bowl Championship teams with winning records. Their FBS wins are over Massachusetts and East Carolina. Those teams are a combined 1-12.

Here are the final five opponents and their records:

Saturday at Army (5-2)

Nov. 2 Navy (5-1)

Nov. 10 at Cincinnati (2-5)

Nov. 18 Central Florida (5-0)

Nov. 25 at Tulsa (2-5)

Of all these games, the one on the impossible-to-win meter is against No. 20 Central Florida. The Knights lead the nation in scoring, averaging 50.6 points.

Assuming UCF holds form and wins, Temple must win three of the other four games.

This week, Temple is facing an Army team that has won three in a row and that physically beat up the Owls, in a 28-13 opening win last year at Lincoln Financial Field. And that was a Temple team that would go 10-4 and win the AAC title.

That said, Temple’s path to bowl eligibility will have to begin with an upset win at Army, a 6.5-point favorite.

Temple did beat Navy, 34-10, to win last year’s AAC title, but both teams are drastically different. Still, Navy was ranked until last week’s 30-27 loss at preseason AAC West-favorite Memphis.

Since Army and Navy both run the triple option, Temple will at least be preparing for the same offense. The bad news is that Navy is No. 1 in the nation in rushing offense (397.5 yards per game) and Army is second (378.4).

And after losing, 28-24, on Saturday to UConn, there is no way Temple fans can book automatic wins at Cincinnati and Tulsa. Last week, Tulsa blitzed visiting Houston, 45-17. That same Houston team won, 20-13, over Temple at the Linc.

Can the Owls become bowl eligible?

Sure, anything is possible, but expecting it to happen at this point, takes a great leap of faith.